The postwar struggles for racial equality in the United States achieved
partial success in the 1960s during the presidencies of John F. Kennedy
and Lyndon Johnson. Both administrations promoted liberal domestic policies (which Johnson termed the â€œGreat Societyâ€), including the passage
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Johnsonâ€™s â€œWar on Povertyâ€ instituted
work-study programs in colleges and created the Job Corps. At the same
time, these administrations carried on the policy of containing Communism within the East-West conception of the Cold War. The United States
had begun to support the French against Ho Chi Minhâ€™s Communist forces
in Vietnam in the 1950s. In 1963, the year in which Kennedy was assassinated, America decisively entered the hostilities. Over the following nine
years, the United States would send over two million soldiers into a war that
became increasingly unpopular at home.
The early 1960s saw a new frankness about sexual behavior, accelerated
by the invention of the birth-control pill and changing views of womenâ€™s
roles. A freer social milieu encouraged the â€œcounterculture,â€ that broad tendency among the young to drop out of the mainstream and experiment with
sex and drugs. The counterculture also played a role in sustaining the New
Left, a radical political stance that distanced itself from both traditional
liberalism and 1930s-style socialism and Communism. Soon, student movements were arguing for more domestic social change and US withdrawal
Between the late 1960s and the early 1970s, social activists clashed
with authority to an extent not seen since the Great Depression. The liberal
stance of the civil rights movement had given way to the more radical position of the Black Power movement. Opposition to US involvement in the
Vietnam War had intensified. Social cohesion seemed to vanish. Martin
Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X were assassinated.
Police attacked demonstrators during the 1968 Democratic Convention
HOLLYWOODâ€™S FALL AND RISE: 1960â€“1980
Bonnie and Clyde
462 CHAPTER 22â€ƒHollywoodâ€™s Fall and Rise: 1960â€“1980
Universalâ€”still controlled distribution, and nearly all
money-making films they released. Lawrence of Arabia
(1962), Cleopatra (1963), Dr. Zhivago (1965), and other
historical epics played for months. Broadway musicals
continued to yield such hits as West Side Story (1961), The
Music Man (1962), and The Sound of Music (1965), the
decadeâ€™s top-grossing film. Independent â€œteenpicsâ€ such
as Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) catered to the drive-in audience with the lure of clean fun in the sun. The Disney
studios dominated the family market with hugely successful films like 101 Dalmatians (1961), Mary Poppins (1965),
and The Jungle Book (1967).
Although stars were free agents, many signed longterm production deals with studios. Paramount had Jerry
Lewis, Universal had Rock Hudson and Doris Day, MGM
had Elvis Presley. Each studio released between twelve
and twenty features per yearâ€”a pattern that would hold
for decades. The Majors had made peace with television.
Networks were paying high prices for the rights to broadcast films, and the studios began making â€œtelefeaturesâ€
and series programs.
The Studios in Crisis
Despite all the evidence of prosperity, the 1960s proved to
be a hazardous decade for the studios. Movie attendance
continued to drop, leveling out at about 1 billion per year.
Studios were releasing fewer films, and many of those
were low-budget pickups or foreign productions that would
have been passed over in earlier years. Most of the Majors
were stuck with large facilities, forcing them to lease sound
stages to television. Big stars proved a mixed blessing.
Once they joined a package, they usually insisted on control of the script and direction, along with a percentage of
a filmâ€™s grosses. Yet most star vehicles did not yield profit
to the studios.
The bulk of the films released by the Majors were independent productions, often cofinanced by the studio. More
and more the films that the Majors financed, planned, and
produced on their own tended to be the sort of roadshow
movies that had succeeded during the 1950s. During the
1960s, about six films were roadshowed per year, and most
proved lucrative. The Sound of Music roadshowed at 266
theaters, running for up to twenty months on some screens.
Only 1 percent of films released between 1960 and 1968
grossed over $1 million, but a third of the roadshow pictures surpassed that figure. The success of roadshow films
such as West Side Story, El Cid (1961), How the West Was
Won (1962), and Lawrence of Arabia drove the studios to
overspend on epic movies. In 1962, MGM lost nearly $20
in Chicago, and President Nixon widened the Vietnam
War. Campuses exploded; 400 closed or held strikes
The withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam in
1973 left deep divisions in American society. The New
Left collapsed, partly because of internal disputes. The
shooting of students at Kent State University in 1970
also seemed to prove the futility of organized action.
Nixonâ€™s successful bid for the presidency resulted from
middle-class votersâ€™ resentment of Eastern liberals, the
left, and the counterculture.
The eraâ€™s upheavals led to an international critical
political cinema (Chapter 23). In the United States, Emile
De Antonio, the Newsreel group, and others practiced
an â€œengagedâ€ filmmaking of social protest. At the same
time, with diminishing profits from blockbusters, the
Hollywood industry tried to woo the younger generation
with countercultural films. The effort led to some experiments in creating an American art cinema.
Responding to the US governmentâ€™s turn to the right
in the early 1970s, left and liberal activists embraced a
micropolitics. They sought grassroots social change by
organizing around concrete issues: abortion, race- and
gender-based discrimination, welfare, and environmental
policy. Many American documentary filmmakers participated in these movements (p. 435). At the same time,
however, this activism was fiercely opposed by the rise of
the New Right, conservative organizations that aroused
local support for school prayer, the abolition of newly
won abortion rights, and other issues. The struggle
between liberal movements and New Right forces was to
become the central political drama of the 1970s, and
many films (Jaws, The Parallax View, Nashville) bear
traces of it.
The drama was played against the backdrop of a waning US economy, fallen prey to oil embargoes and brisk
competition from Japan and Germany. The 1970s ended
Americaâ€™s era of postwar prosperity. This period coincided with Hollywoodâ€™s reinvention of the blockbuster and
the rise to power of the movie brats, the pragmatic and
influential young filmmakers who became the new creative leaders of the industry.
THE 1960s: THE FILM
INDUSTRY IN RECESSION
Superficially, Hollywood seemed healthy in the early
1960s. The Majorsâ€”MGM, Warner Bros., United Artists,
Paramount, 20th Century-Fox, Columbia, Disney, and
The 1960s: The Film Industry in Recession 463
parlors). In 1967, Transamerica Corporation (car rentals,
life insurance) bought United Artists. In 1968, financier
Kirk Kerkorian gained control of MGM, downsized it, and
used its assets to build the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.
Studios used to operating as freestanding companies
now found themselves small slices of big corporate pies.
Fox escaped for the moment because Star Wars (1977)
made it self-sustaining, but in the 1980s it too would join a
conglomerate, Rupert Murdochâ€™s News Corp. As for
Disney, despite its weakened animation wing, it released
very profitable, modestly budgeted live-action features,
such as Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. (1966), The Love Bug
(1968), and The Shaggy D.A. (1976). Eventually, as we
will see in Chapter 28, Disney itself became a thriving
The conglomerates could help the ailing studios by
injecting money from other businesses and guaranteeing
lines of bank credit. But nothing seemed to stem the flow
of red ink. Between 1969 and 1972, the Majors lost $500
million. The studios quickly brought in new executives,
often with little experience in film production. Banks
forced companies to trim the number of releases, avoid
big-budget films, and partner with other studios in coproductions (as when Warners and Fox joined forces for
The Towering Inferno, 1974). In 1970, unemployment in
Hollywood rose to over 40 percent, an all-time high. As
recession gripped the industry, the roadshow era ended.
Exhibitors began splitting their houses into two or three
screens and building multiplexes, usually cheaper
shopping-mall theaters. The result was a generation of
narrow auditoriums with poor sightlines and garbled
Styles and Genres
With the decline of the studios and the continuing drop in
attendance, 1960s Hollywood was unsure about what the
public wanted. When a performer won a loyal audience,
he or she could count on studio support. Perhaps the most
obvious example is Jerry Lewis. After teaming with Dean
Martin on several hugely successful Paramount releases in
the 1950s, Lewis set out on a solo careerâ€”writing, directing, and performing in his own comedies. In most of his
films, Lewis gave his idiot-child character a spasmodic,
demonic frenzy. In The Nutty Professor (1963), he portrayed not only a geeky simpleton but also a suave ladykiller modeled on Dean Martin. As a director, Lewis
displayed considerable visual flair: The Ladiesâ€™ Man (1961)
presents a womenâ€™s boarding house as a colossal dollhouse (Color Plate 22.1).
million, thanks largely to cost overruns on Mutiny on the
Bounty (1962). Cleopatraâ€™s protracted production pushed
Fox to a loss of over $40 million.
By the late 1960s, every studio faced a financial crisis.
Most releases lost money, and executives proved slow to
understand that the big picture was no longer a sure thing.
Despite Cleopatraâ€™s high box-office take, its production costs
guaranteed that it would lose money upon theatrical
releaseâ€”as did many other expensive historical epics, such as
The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) and The Battle of Britain
(1969). Nor was the musical film a guaranteed winner.
Although The Sound of Music was a hit, Doctor Dolittle
(1967), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), Star! (1968), and
Paint Your Wagon (1969) were expensive fiascos.
Even the Walt Disney studio suffered a slump during
this period. During the 1950s and 1960s, Disney had
increasingly focused on its television productions, liveaction films, and Disneyland (opened in 1955). Its animated features of the 1960s routinely appeared on the lists
of annual top-grossing films: 101 Dalmatians, The Sword
in the Stone (1963), The Jungle Book, and The Rescuers
(1977). Disneyâ€™s death in 1966, however, led to a period
of mostly less prestigious and profitable films, starting
with the minor successes of The Aristocats (1971) and
Robin Hood (1973). The studioâ€™s low point in animation
was the expensive failure, The Black Cauldron (1985). Not
until 1989, with The Little Mermaid, would Disney once
again produce a stream of popular cartoon features.
The only bright spots were a few low-budget films,
usually aimed at the college audience, that yielded remarkable returns. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) cost $3 million and
returned $24 million domestic rental income to Warner
Bros., while Midnight Cowboy (1969) cost $3 million and
yielded $20 million to United Artists. The winner in the
low-budget sweepstakes was the independent release The
Graduate (1967). It cost $3 million and returned $49 million to its small distributor, Embassy Pictures. This scale
of profits made the sophisticated young-adult film very
attractive to studio decision makers.
The Majors, at their weakest point since World War II,
were ripe for absorption into healthier companies. In 1962,
Universal was acquired by the Music Corporation of
America, but at least the deal remained in the Hollywood
family, since MCA was a former talent agency
(pp. 301â€“302). But now conglomerates circled the studios.
In 1966, Gulf + Western industries (a firm with holdings in
auto parts, metals, and financial services) acquired the ailing Paramount Pictures. In 1967, Warner Bros. was bought
by Seven Arts, which two years later was absorbed into
Kinney National Services (parking lots and funeral
464 CHAPTER 22â€ƒHollywoodâ€™s Fall and Rise: 1960â€“1980
particularly successful. The erotic period comedy Tom
Jones (1963) and the edgy drama Alfie (1966), which
traded on the fashionable â€œswinging Londonâ€ image,
proved popular (p. 408), as did the Beatles films.
Modifying the Classical Studio Style
Most Hollywood products of the early 1960s had a glossy
studio look, but some filmmakers broke with this style. The
Pawnbroker (1965) and other New Yorkâ€“based films offered
a harsh, ethnically inflected realism. Location filming
became more frequent, even within cramped bars and apartments. Long-focal-length lenses, which acted as a telescope
in enlarging a small area, allowed the cameraman to film
from a safe distance on an urban location. The long lens
became fashionable; it tended to flatten the shotâ€™s space and
produce soft, blurry contours (22.1). In 1962, Arthur Pennâ€™s
black-and-white The Miracle Worker employed sharp deep
focus and crisp lighting (22.2), but five years later the much
flatter imagery in his color Bonnie and Clyde (22.3) resulted
from extremely long lenses. By the late 1960s, long lenses
were used for most medium shots and close views, whether
filmed on location or in studio sets.
During this period, directors abandoned the long-take
aesthetic of the postwar years and experimented with
faster, flashier editing. Richard Lesterâ€™s A Hard Dayâ€™s Night
The 1960s continued the upscaling of B genres that
had begun in the 1950s (p. 303), especially in the bigbudget espionage film. The catalyst was Ian Flemingâ€™s
James Bond novels. Agent 007 proved his box-office worth
with the phenomenally profitable Goldfinger (1964) and
its successors. The Bond films had erotically laced
intrigues, semicomic chases and fight scenes, outlandish
weaponry, wry humor, and dazzling production design
(Color Plate 22.2). The series spawned imitations and
parodies around the world.
The sexiness of the Bond films was typical of the
period. The roadshow pictures and the Disney product
provided wholesome family fare, but theaters welcomed
more risquÃ© films that could lure viewers away from bland
TV programming. Universalâ€™s Doris Day comedies
(including Pillow Talk, 1958 and Lover Come Back, 1962)
celebrated womenâ€™s sexual stratagems, often at the
expense of the male ego. Other films snickered at promiscuity (A Guide for the Married Man, 1967), suburban flirtations (Boysâ€™ Night Out, 1962), and aggressive women (Sex
and the Single Girl, 1964).
Some audiences enjoyed films from outside the
Hollywood mainstream. Studios distributed films from
Europe, not just quickly made costume pictures such as
Hercules (1957), but also ambitious, polished efforts
such as Zorba the Greek (1965). British imports were
22.1 Easy Rider: the long lens minimizes
the space between distant and closer
22.2 The Miracle Worker: deep focus
and the wide-angle lens.
22.3 Bonnie and Clyde: during the final
shoot-out, Clyde Barrowâ€™s dying descent
is filmed with a long lens, which softens
focus and flattens space.
22.4, left Discontinuity in A Hard
Dayâ€™s Night: as â€œCanâ€™t Buy Me Loveâ€
plays on the sound track, Lester shows
the Beatles romping in a soccer field . . .
22.5, right . . . and immediately cuts to
them relaxing (A Hard Dayâ€™s Night).
The 1960s: The Film Industry in Recession 465
Seven Women (1965). â€œThis is against my conscience and
Identifying the Audience
Ford was right: many boundaries of taste had been crossed.
Throughout the 1950s, the power of the Hays Office to dictate film content had been eroding (p. 300). In the 1960s,
major films such as The Pawnbroker and Alfie were distributed without the Production Code seal, while others carried
a seal despite nudity and profanity. It became apparent that
the Code not only was ineffectual but was creating lucrative
publicity for the films it rejected. Theaters screening Whoâ€™s
Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) required that under-eighteen
patrons be accompanied by an adult, and the film earned
huge profits. The Code was dead.
In 1966, the Motion Picture Association of America
(MPPA) stopped issuing certificates. Instead, films that
failed to conform to its guidelines were labeled â€œSuggested
for Mature Audiences.â€ Backing down from this toothless
policy, the MPAA companies created a rating system
coded by letter: G (general: recommended for all ages),
M (mature: recommended for viewers over sixteen),
R (restricted: viewers under sixteen to be accompanied
by parent or guardian), and X (no one under sixteen
The rating system allowed the industry to present
itself as being sensitive to public concern while giving
filmmakers license to treat violence, sexuality, or unorthodox ideas. The new latitude helped make hits out of Bob &
Carol & Ted & Alice, The Wild Bunch, and Midnight Cowboy
(all 1969). Subsequent films succeeded by pushing the
standards of acceptability further. Eventually the rating
system was revised, raising the age for R and X films and
replacing the M category with PG (parental guidance
Producers noted that The Graduate and Bonnie and
Clyde had appealed to young audiences, and they learned
that half of all moviegoers were aged 16 to 24. Studios
launched a cycle of youthpics, which offered young audiences entertainment unavailable on television. The prototype was Easy Rider (1969), a chronicle of two drug
dealersâ€™ motorcycle trip across America. Made for less
than $500,000, it became one of the most successful
films of its year. The youthpics cycle included films of
campus rebellion (The Strawberry Statement, 1970),
countercultural dramas (Aliceâ€™s Restaurant, 1969; Joe,
1970), nostalgia pieces (The Last Picture Show, 1971),
and anarchic comedies (M*A*S*H, 1970; Harold and
Maude, 1971). When Yellow Submarine (Great Britain,
1968) became a phenomenal hit by offering a string of
(1964) and Help! (1965) fractured the Beatlesâ€™ musical
numbers into discontinuous shots (22.4, 22.5). Lesterâ€™s
zany technique derived from the French New Wave, TV
commercials, and British eccentric comedy. He pushed
fast cutting further in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way
to the Forum (1966). Other directors accelerated the pace:
Robert Aldrichâ€™s The Dirty Dozen (1967) averaged
3.5 seconds per shot.
Lester created a vogue for wordless scenes, often montage sequences, backed by pop songs. The most famous
example is probably Simon and Garfunkelâ€™s vocals in The
Graduate (1967), which comment on the heroâ€™s indifference. With the â€œRaindrops Keep Fallinâ€™ on My Headâ€
scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), the
integration of full-length songs into scenes became a staple
of American cinema. Film studios affiliated with music
companies could cross-plug movies and recordings, making
the sound-track album a source of profit.
Lesterâ€™s eye-catching techniques were applied to volatile content by Arthur Penn in Bonnie and Clyde. With
an average shot length of less than four seconds, the film
also popularized the use of slow motion to render
extreme violence. The climax, showing the title couple
cut down by a hail of bullets, turns into a spasmodic
dance through rhythmic slow motion (see 22.3). Sam
Peckinpah pushed Pennâ€™s approach further by rendering
blood bursts and falling bodies in slow motion and a hail
of shots. The Wild Bunch (1969) celebrates an anarchic
band of robbers who are tracked by an obsessive lawman.
The film begins and ends with harrowing firefights in
which innocents are gunned down mercilessly. Straw
Dogs (1971), with its portrayal of an ineffectual professor taking bloody revenge for the rape of his wife, outraged critics even more. Peckinpahâ€™s critics still debate
whether his lyrical treatment of carnage distances us,
arouses us, or invites us to reflect on our own appetites.
After Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch, fast cutting
and slow motion became common ways of presenting
Innovations like these arrived as most old-guard
filmmakers were in their final creative years. John Ford,
Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, William Wyler, Raoul
Walsh, and many others who had started in silent cinema
or the early days of sound were no longer at the forefront.
Ford and Walsh retired after careers lasting nearly fifty
years. Their solid technique looked staid, their attitudes
old-fashioned. Hawks remarked of Peckinpahâ€™s slowmotion filming, â€œOh hell, I can kill and bury ten guys in
the time it takes him to kill one.â€1
â€œHollywood now is run
by Wall St. and Madison Ave., who demand â€˜Sex and Violence,â€™â€ wrote John Ford after completing his last feature,
466 CHAPTER 22â€ƒHollywoodâ€™s Fall and Rise: 1960â€“1980
NEW PRODUCTION AND EXHIBITION TECHNOLOGIES
The return of Hollywood cinema owed something to new
ways of making images and sounds. By 1967, the studios
depended on selling TV rights to features. As color television became common, the networks demanded color films
for broadcast, and Hollywood committed itself to color
production. Eastman Color became the stock of choice for
shooting and release prints, although some prints were
made from Eastman using Technicolorâ€™s dye-imbibition
The industry had explored various versions of widescreen cinema in the 1950s, and by the mid-1960s a few
had become dominant. Most films were shot in 35mm and
masked during shooting or projection to a 1:85 aspect
ratio. To obtain a wider image with 35mm, the image would
usually be anamorphically compressed, as in CinemaScope (p. 296). But there were optical problems with the
original CinemaScope design, particularly its tendency to
make faces fatter in close-up (â€œâ€™Scope mumpsâ€). The
Panavision company designed a better anamorphic system, first used on some late 1950s films. By the end of the
1960s, CinemaScope was defunct and Panavision became
the anamorphic standard. For still more grandeur, big
musicals or historical epics would be shot on 65mm stock
and printed to 70mm to allow for multitrack sound. Exodus
(1960), Lawrence of Arabia, and other films were both
70mm and anamorphic.
Influenced by European films and Direct Cinema,
Hollywood cinematographers adapted zoom lenses
(p. 394). A fashion for self-conscious zooming arose, as in
The Train (1964). By the 1970s, filmmakers felt that such sudden enlargements or reductions of images called too much
attention to the mechanics of shooting, so zooming was
mostly confined to low-budget films. Still, many cinematographers kept the zoom lens on the camera to allow them to
frame a shot precisely without changing camera positions.
Hollywood filmmakers also borrowed the handheld
shot from Direct Cinema. The shakiness of the handheld
camera could suggest a documentary immediacy (such as
the opening of Seven Days in May, 1964) or a nervous
energy (the roadhouse dance and fight in Virginia Woolfâ€‰â€‰).
Cinematographers liked the new maneuverability but also
wanted to make the handheld imagery steadier. Lighterweight cameras, such as the 15-pound Arriflex 35 BL,
became available at the beginning of the 1970s. Though
somewhat heavier, Panavisionâ€™s Panaflex could still be
braced on the operatorâ€™s shoulder, and this allowed shooting in cramped circumstances. John A. Alonzo used the
Panaflex for meticulous wide-angle long takes in Roman
Polanskiâ€™s Chinatown (1974; Color Plate 22.4). For Steven
Spielbergâ€™s Sugarland Express (1974), cinematographer
Vilmos Zsigmond obtained tight and steady shots inside a
moving car by sliding a Panaflex along a plank.
The Steadicam, first publicized on Bound for Glory
(1976), was a camera support that used a system of counterweights to suspend the camera on a brace attached to
the operatorâ€™s body. It created smooth, floating tracking
shots. Now the operator could stride through crowds and
narrow doorways as well as up and down stairwaysâ€”
maneuvers not possible with a studio dolly. Adding to the
flexibility of moving shots was the Louma crane, a remotecontrolled aluminum arm that could lift a Panaflex high
above a set. Both the Steadicam and the Louma crane
used video monitors for viewfinding.
The 1970s also saw a revolution in sound recording
and reproduction. Robert Altmanâ€™s California Split (1974)
pioneered multitrack recording during shooting, planting
radio microphones on the actors to create up to fourteen
distinct channels. During this period, the â€œtime codeâ€
designed to identify frames on videotape was modified to
synchronize the film strip with one or more audio recorders. Time-codes made sound mixing and rerecording
In sound reproduction, the principal innovations came
from the laboratories of Ray Dolby. Dolby introduced noise
reduction techniques to the music industry in the mid1960s. A Clockwork Orange (1971) was among the first
films to employ them. Several movies used Dolby magnetic and optical processes for multitrack theater reproduction, but Dolbyâ€™s stereo system did not become
popular until Star Wars (1977). More and more theaters
converted to stereo and surround-sound speaker layouts
to take advantage of the more powerful sound tracks.
â€œpsychedelicâ€ vignettes illustrating Beatles songs, producers realized that animation could also win college audiences. Ralph Bakshi aimed Fritz the Cat (1972), the first
cartoon to receive an X rating, at viewers comfortable
with the drugs-and-free-love ethos of underground comics
(Color Plate 22.3).
In the same years, the industry also benefited from a
few old-fashioned hits targeting the general audience: the
war film Patton (1970), the musical Fiddler on the Roof
(1971), a cycle of â€œdisasterâ€ pictures starting with The
Poseidon Adventure (1972), two films pairing Paul Newman
and Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid;
The New Hollywood: Late 1960s to Late 1970s 467
Many of the New Hollywood directors self-consciously
returned to the traditions of the classical studio genres,
paying respects to venerated filmmakers (p. 476). But studios also granted filmmakers the opportunity to create
something like European art films. Sometimes a single
filmmaker like Coppola might participate in both trends.
Both tendencies were characterized by â€œmovie consciousness,â€ an intense awareness of film history and its continuing influence on contemporary culture.
Toward an American Art Cinema
When Paramount Pictures asked Francis Ford Coppola to
make a film based on the novel The Godfather, he was in
despair. â€œThey want me to direct this hunk of trash,â€ he
told his father. â€œI donâ€™t want to do it. I want to do art
That Coppola could harbor such hopes reflects a
brief but important moment in American filmmaking.
With the late 1960s recession and the search for college
audiences, Hollywood became more hospitable to the
storytelling techniques pioneered in the European art cinema. One cure for Hollywoodâ€™s slump seemed to be the
art film dwelling on mood, characterization, and psychological ambiguity.
A case in point is Richard Lesterâ€™s much-praised
Petulia (1968). In one scene, the eccentric and abused
Petulia confronts her lover Archie at his apartment. Lester
interrupts their conversation with brief shots: a flashback
of Archie trying to return the tuba Petulia had brought
him and a â€œfalseâ€ flashback of Petulia stealing the tuba
(22.6â€“22.9). The filmâ€™s play with chronology and
The Sting, 1973), and the adaptation of a best-selling
novel, Love Story (1970). But the tide would really turn in
the mid-1970s, when a string of modestly budgeted films
by young, largely unknown directors would become stupendously profitable.
THE NEW HOLLYWOOD:
LATE 1960s TO LATE 1970s
The directors identified with the â€œNew Hollywoodâ€ were a
diverse lot. Manyâ€”the â€œmovie bratsâ€â€”were in their late
twenties and early thirties. Others, such as Robert Altman
and Woody Allen, were significantly older. Some directors, for
example, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola,
went to film school, but critic-turned-filmmaker Peter
Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show; Whatâ€™s Up, Doc?,
1972) and former television director Bob Rafelson (Five
Easy Pieces, 1970; The King of Marvin Gardens, 1972) did
not. Some were fastidious intellectuals, like Terrence
Malick (Badlands, 1973; Days of Heaven, 1978), while others were countercultural movie mavens, such as Brian De
Palma (Greetings, 1968; Sisters, 1973), John Carpenter
(Dark Star, 1974; Assault on Precinct 13, 1977), and John
Milius (Dillinger, 1973; The Wind and the Lion, 1975).
While these directors established themselves in the early
1970s, others about the same age came to prominence a
little later: screenwriter/director Paul Schrader (Blue
Collar, 1978), Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter, 1978),
David Lynch (Eraserhead, 1978), and Jonathan Demme
(Melvin and Howard, 1980).
22.6, left Petulia: Archie explains that
he tried to return the tuba Petulia had
left with him . . .
22.7, right . . . and Lester intercuts a
flashback of Archie doing so (Petulia).
22.9, right . . . and Lester inserts a
shot of her breaking a pawnshop window
to steal the tuba. This visualizes a lie that
she told Archie earlier (Petulia).
22.8, left Soon Archie learns that
Petulia paid for renting the tuba . . .
468 CHAPTER 22â€ƒHollywoodâ€™s Fall and Rise: 1960â€“1980
scenes and a pervasive reflexivity (including titles reading â€œSCENE MISSINGâ€).
Older directors also ventured into the American art
cinema. Paul Mazurskyâ€™s Alex in Wonderland (1970) paid
homage to Felliniâ€™s 8Â½, while Sydney Pollackâ€™s They
Shoot Horses, Donâ€™t They? (1969) flaunted stylized flashforwards. Mike Nicholsâ€™s Catch-22 (1970) and George
Roy Hillâ€™s Slaughterhouse Five (1972) juggled time in
adapting well-known novels. In Images (1972) and Three
Women (1977), Altman emphasized ambiguous shifts
between objective reality and character subjectivity, decorated with abstract, enigmatic compositions. Woody
Allenâ€™s Interiors (1978) was a somber chamber drama
modeled on Bergmanâ€™s work, while Alan J. Pakulaâ€™s The
Parallax View (1972) adorned an assassination thriller
with alienating widescreen compositions that recall
Antonioni (Color Plate 22.5).
The auteur approach to film criticism had become
widely known in the United States (see â€œNotes and Queriesâ€ online). Many movie brats who began their careers
in the 1960s had learned of it in film school and harbored
dreams of becoming artists like the venerated European
and Asian auteurs and Young Cinema directors.
character subjectivity is reminiscent of Alain Resnaisâ€™
Hiroshima mon amour (p. 402).
Stanley Kubrickâ€™s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968),
while it revived a revival of the science-fiction genre, on
another level it exploits the enigmatic symbolism of European art cinema. Long scenes of antiseptic life on the
spacecraft (many stretches devoid of drama), an ironic use
of music, and a teasing, allegorical ending invite thematic
interpretation of a sort usually reserved for films by Federico Fellini or Michelangelo Antonioni.
Some youthpics also experimented with art-film traditions. Easy Riderâ€™s rock sound track and drug-laced tour
of America may have attracted young audiences, but its
style is quite jolting (22.10, 22.11). Transitions are
choppy: a few frames from the last shot of one scene
alternate with a few frames of the first shot of the next.
(Dennis Hopper, a fan of underground films, may have
borrowed the device from Gregory Markopoulos
[p. 450].) A puzzling flashforward shot of a burning bike
punctuates the narrative, foreshadowing the end of the
drug dealersâ€™ odyssey.
Other road movies took a loose, open approach to
narrative, as in Bob Rafelsonâ€™s Five Easy Pieces and
Monte Hellmanâ€™s Two Lane Blacktop (1971), the latter
remarkable for its sparse dialogue and minimal characterizations. Brian De Palmaâ€™s Greetings and Hi, Mom!
(1970) were episodic counterculture films that merged
rock music, raunchy humor, and reflexive stylistic
devices borrowed from FranÃ§ois Truffaut and Jean-Luc
Godard. Haskell Wexlerâ€™s Medium Cool (1969; 22.12),
Paul Williamsâ€™s The Revolutionary (1970), and Michelangelo Antonioniâ€™s Zabriskie Point (1970) drew upon the
critical political cinema emerging in Europe
(Chapter 23); they often relied on ambiguous narratives
and open endings. Melvin Van Peeblesâ€™ Sweet Sweetbackâ€™s
Baadasssss Song (1971), a frenetic call to black revolution, exploited a variety of New Wave techniques.
Hopperâ€™s The Last Movie (1971), about a Kansas cowboy
eking out a living in Peru, employed cryptic symbolic
22.10, 22.11 Dennis Hopperâ€™s Easy
Rider assimilated the jump cuts
that Jean-Luc Godard had pioneered
in Breathless (p. 395).
22.12 The handheld camera captures demonstrators building
barricades against the police in sequences shot at the 1968
Democratic Convention (Medium Cool).
The New Hollywood: Late 1960s to Late 1970s 469
Hollywood Strikes Gold
During the 1970s, forces were at work to salvage the US
film industry. In 1971, a new law allowed film companies to claim tax credits on investments in US-made
films and to recover tax credits from the 1960s. This
legislation not only returned hundreds of millions of
dollars to the Majors, it also allowed them to defer tax
on subsidiariesâ€™ activities. In addition, a tax-shelter plan
allowed investors in films to declare up to 100 percent
of their investment as exempt from taxes. The latter provision helped successful, offbeat films like One Flew
Over the Cuckooâ€™s Nest (1975) and Taxi Driver (1976) to
be made. The tax-shelter provision was rescinded in
1976, and the studiosâ€™ tax-credit benefits were abolished
in the mid-1980s, but they had been crucial to the
Although many of the new generation of Hollywood
directorsâ€”especially the movie bratsâ€”considered themselves artists, few wanted to be esoteric. Some made not
just ordinary hits but films that broke records year after
year. The top-grossing films of 1970 and 1971 (Love
Story, Airport, M*A*S*H, Patton, The French Connection,
Fiddler on the Roofâ€‰â€‰) had yielded between $25 million
and $50 million to the studios from US box-office
returnsâ€”strong profits, but lackluster in comparison
with what was to come. The Godfather ushered in an era
of box-office income on a scale no one had imagined.
The following figures are rentals, not box-office grosses;
the rentals are the revenues returned to the studio after
the theaters have taken their percentages of gross ticket
1972: The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola,
returned over $81 million to Paramount in the US
market. Two years later, its global rentals and TV sales
amounted to $285 million.
The most celebrated movie brat was Francis Ford
Coppola. With The Rain People (1969), shot on the road
with a Dodge bus, a crew of friends, and minuscule financing, Coppola sought to make a film that had the stylistic
richness and the dedramatization of prestigious European
cinema. Natalie leaves her husband because her marriage
is beginning to stifle her. On her aimless drive she picks
up Killer, a brain-damaged football player. Abrupt, jagged
flashbacks interrupt scenes, and Coppolaâ€™s sound
designer, Walter Murch, provides a montage of environmental texturesâ€”the crackle of phone lines, the muffled
rumble of high-speed trucks shaking roadside motel
rooms. The glistening sidewalks of the opening credits
take on significance when Killer tells Natalie of the â€œrain
peopleâ€ who disappear because â€œthey cry themselves
Coppolaâ€™s most ambitious art film was The
Conversation (1974), financed on the success of The Godfather. Like many of Altmanâ€™s works (see box), the film
blends conventions of the art cinema with those of a Hollywood genreâ€”in this case, the detective film. Although
The Conversation is frequently compared to Antonioniâ€™s
Blow-Up (1966), Coppola probes his protagonistâ€™s mind
far more deeply than Antonioni does. Harry Caul, an
expert in audio surveillance, records fragments of a conversation that lead him to suspect a murder plot. As he
replays and remixes the telltale dialogue (rendered in Walter Murchâ€™s intricate sound design), Harryâ€™s growing anxiety is charted through dreams and fragmentary flashbacks.
The murder is presented in disorienting shards, as Harry
glimpses and overhears it. Eventually, the audience discovers that parts of the original conversation have been filtered through Harryâ€™s mind. As Harry realizes the true
situation, Coppola intercuts shots of him with shots of the
murder, perhaps as he now imagines it to have taken place
22.13 The Conversation: as Harry
watches the mysterious younger people
leave the corporation under press
scrutiny . . .
22.15 . . . and suggests that these
images could be either Harryâ€™s
imaginings or fragments of the real
action (The Conversation).
22.14 . . . Coppola interrupts the scene
with glimpses of the murder . . . (The
470 CHAPTER 22â€ƒHollywoodâ€™s Fall and Rise: 1960â€“1980
PERSONAL CINEMA: ALTMAN AND ALLEN
After the mid-1970s, efforts to maintain a Hollywood art
cinema were much less common. One director who persisted was Robert Altman. Altman directed some fairly
orthodox features before his career was energized by the
late 1960s recession, the youthpics cycle, and the vogue
for Hollywood art cinema. His films travesty their genres,
from the war film M*A*S*H to the antimusical Popeye
(1980). They radiate a distrust of authority, a criticism of
American pieties, and a celebration of energetic, if confused, idealism.
Altman also developed an idiosyncratic style. He
relied on shambling, semi-improvised performances, a
restless pan-and-zoom camera style, abrupt cutting,
multiple-camera shooting that kept the viewpoint resolutely outside the character action, and a sound track of
unprecedented density. His long lenses crowd characters
in on one another and lock them behind reflecting glass
(22.16). Nashville (1975), for many critics Altmanâ€™s major
achievement, follows twenty-four characters over a weekend, often scattering them across the widescreen frame
(22.17). In Altmanâ€™s films, characters mumble, talk simultaneously, or find themselves drowned out by the droning
loudspeakers of official wisdom.
Without a major hit after M*A*S*H, Altman found himself
adrift in the 1980s, but he still managed to be quite prolific,
skewering American values in bare-bones play adaptations
(Secret Honor, 1984; Fool for Love, 1985). His career was
revived by the dark Hollywood comedy The Player (1992),
which returned him to more mainstream production. Venerated by a new generation of US independent filmmakers,
Altman continued his experiments in decentered narrative
and sardonic social commentary in Short Cuts (1993),
Gosford Park (2001), and many other works. His last film
before his death, A Prairie Home Companion (2006),
returned to the musical world of in Nashville, but with a
good-humored affection for the performers.
Altmanâ€™s contemporary Woody Allen created a personal cinema from a production base in New York. A television gag writer and stand-up comedian, Allen wrote
plays and starred in films during the 1960s. His first directorial effort, Take the Money and Run (1969), became an
immediate success, carrying on the wisecracking absurdist tradition of the Marx Brothers and Bob Hope. Allenâ€™s
early films also appealed to intellectuals through cinematic
in-jokes, such as the homage to Potemkinâ€™s Odessa Steps
in Bananas (1971).
22.16 In The Long Goodbye, a
dense window reflection shows the
detective Philip Marlowe on the
beach while inside the house novelist
Roger Wade quarrels with his wife.
22.17 Several major characters pass
one another unawares in the bustling
airport scene at the beginning of
The New Hollywood: Late 1960s to Late 1970s 471
1973: William Friedkinâ€™s The Exorcist (Warners; 22.19)
surpassed The Godfatherâ€™s US rentals by $3 million.
In the same year, Universal reluctantly released a
small-budget film called American Graffiti, directed
by George Lucas; it reaped over $55 million.
1975: Jaws (Universal), directed by Steven Spielberg,
earned $130 million in domestic rentals.
1976: Rocky, made without major stars and by
little-known director John G. Avildsen, earned United
Artists $56 million at the US box office.
1977: Steven Spielbergâ€™s Close Encounters of the Third Kind
(Columbia; $82 million) and John Badhamâ€™s Saturday
Night Fever (Paramount; $74 million) generated very
healthy profits, but records were broken again by George
Lucasâ€™s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Fox). Costing
$11 million, it began as a summer movie, ran continuously
into 1978, and was rereleased in 1979. Star Wars earned
over $190 million in US rentals and about $250 million
worldwide, on a total ticket sales of over $500 million.
With Annie Hall (1977), Allen launched a series of films
that blended his interest in the psychological problems of
the urban professional with his love for American film traditions and for such European filmmakers as Fellini and
Bergman. â€œWhen I started making pictures, I was interested
in the kind of pictures I enjoyed when I was younger. Comedies, real funny comedies, and romantic comedies, sophisticated comedies. As I got a little more savvy, that part of me
which responded to foreign film started to take over.â€4
Allenâ€™s most influential films have thrown his comic
personaâ€”the hypersensitive, insecure Jewish intellectualâ€”
into a tangle of psychological conflicts. Sometimes the plot
centers on the Allen figureâ€™s confused love life (Annie Hall;
Manhattan, 1979). In Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1990), the plot consists of
intertwined romantic relationships among several characters, played for contrasts between verbal comedy and
sober drama (22.18). Allen built many of his films around
the questions that preoccupied him, and he unabashedly
recorded his loves (jazz, Manhattan), dislikes (rock music,
drugs, California), and values (love, friendship, trust).
A unique production arrangement allowed Allen to
retain control over the script, casting, and editing. He
explored a range of styles, from the pseudo-documentary
realism of Zelig (1983) to the mock German Expressionism
22.18 Middle-class couples debate artificial insemination:
romantic satire in Hannah and Her Sisters.
of Shadows and Fog (1992). Allen also paid homage to a
number of his favorite films and auteurs. Stardust Memories (1980) is an overt reworking of Felliniâ€™s 8Â½; Radio Days
(1987), in its glowing evocation of period detail, recalls
Amarcord. Interiors (1978) and September (1987) are Bergmanesque chamber dramas, while the holiday family gatherings of Hannah and Her Sisters evoke Fanny and
Alexander. Few of his films made a profit, but into the
2010s Allen attracted major stars willing to take roles in his
22.19 The Exorcist, an adaptation of a best-selling horror
novel, aroused controversy with its blasphemous language and
its shocking special effects. Here, thanks to a life-sized puppet,
the possessed Regan mockingly rotates her head.
No cluster of films had ever made so much money on
Studios on the brink of bankruptcy found
their profits hitting unprecedented levels. Richard
F. Zanuck, the son of long-time 20th Century-Fox boss
472 CHAPTER 22â€ƒHollywoodâ€™s Fall and Rise: 1960â€“1980
Darryl F. Zanuck, produced The Sting and Jaws. He realized that â€œI had amassed more money with one or two
pictures than my father had in a lifetime of work.â€6
the boom of the early and mid-1970s, most Majors had at
least one top hit, so the industry maintained its stability.
Overall rentals from domestic and foreign release
increased about $200 million per year, reaching $2 billion
in 1979. Television networks and cable companies began
paying large sums for rights to broadcast the new blockbusters. The 1970s resurgence catapulted several filmmakers to fame, with three becoming major producer-directors
The Return of the Blockbuster
The 1970s blockbusters made producers far less willing to
let filmmakers experiment with plot, tone, and style.
During the recession of the early 1970s, studios welcomed
even a small hit; directors were not expected to create big
pictures. By the late 1970s, however, companies did not
want to risk money on untried subjects or approaches.
Clearly the industryâ€™s success was based on very few
films. In any year, ten or so â€œmust-seeâ€ pictures attracted
the bulk of admissions, while most of the Majorsâ€™
releases lost money. The industry therefore sought to
minimize the risks. Companies released their big-budget
films in the peak leisure periods, summer and Christmas.
Copying exploitation companies like AIP, Universal
aired many television ads for Jaws and released the film
to hundreds of theaters simultaneously. Since then, most
major releases have received saturation advertising and
booking, pinning their fates primarily on one opening
Hollywood discovered other ways to wring profits
from blockbusters. One strategy would be central to future
studio filmmaking: the sequel. The Godfather, The Exorcist,
Jaws, and Rocky were given additional installments; one
Rocky sequel appeared in 2015, forty years after the original. George Lucas built the idea of a continuing story into
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, and his empire
depended on sequels, prequels, and offshoot films. This
practice would lead producers to set up franchises, ongoing stories spread across many films over many years.
Another strategy pioneered by Lucas involved ancillary
rights. Jaws had been made with little concern for merchandising, but in negotiating his stake in Star Wars, Lucas
shrewdly obtained a large percentage of the rights to toys,
T-shirts, and other fan paraphernalia. After studios saw
the Star Wars ancillary income exceed its box-office take,
they created their own merchandising divisions.
Despite some inroads made by independent distributors, the market was ruled by familiar players. The major
distribution companies garnered 90 percent of all theater
revenues. A film financed outside the studios could not
get widely screened unless it was distributed by a top company. The standard distribution fee, 35 percent, came
directly from gross rentals, so Jaws and Star Wars earned
distribution income for Universal and 20th Century-Fox
over and above any investments the studios made in the
productions. The major distributors also controlled international circulation of US films.
Still, the Majors needed filmmakers. While some studios, notably Disney, prided themselves on generating
their own projects, most came to rely on directors and producers with strong track records. Spielberg and Lucas
became powerful producers who could find financing easily and even demand reductions in distribution fees. Studios cultivated long-term relationships with producers
who could bring together a script, a director, and stars.
Increasingly, agents functioned as quasi-producers by gathering their clients into packages, a tactic pioneered by Lew
Wasserman (p. 301) and developed by Sue Mengers in
assembling Ryan Oâ€™Neal, Barbra Streisand, and director
Peter Bogdanovich for Whatâ€™s Up, Doc? (1973). In 1975,
two powerful talent agencies formed, International Creative Management and Creative Artists Agency, both of
which would become prime packagers in the 1980s.
Many of the most adept moguls were TV-trained, like
Paramountâ€™s Barry Diller and Michael Eisner, and knew
how to broker talent. Studios also hired agents as executives. Accordingly, the 1970s initiated the era of â€œthe
deal.â€ Development deals generated income for the agents,
producers, scriptwriters, and stars, but few films resulted.
Overall deals paid stars and directors to develop â€œvanity
projectsâ€ for studios, and housekeeping deals gave their
production companies an office on the studio lot. Every
participant in a package held out for the maximum, so a
project might take years to reach the screen. Filmmakers
complained that shooting films had become secondary to
As successful filmmakers gained more control over
their projects, budgets often inflated. Coppolaâ€™s Apocalypse Now took three years to shoot and cost over $30 million. Even top directors were not immune to cost overruns,
as Spielbergâ€™s 1941 (1979) showed. The systemâ€™s most
notorious failure involved Michael Ciminoâ€™s ambitious
Western, Heavenâ€™s Gate (1980). The budget rose to
$40 million, the highest production cost of the 1970s.
After the film had a disastrous premiere, United Artists
released a shortened version. It earned less than $2
The New Hollywood: Late 1960s to Late 1970s 473
THE 1970s BIG THREE: COPPOLA, SPIELBERG, AND LUCAS
Three directors who emerged at the beginning of the
1970s became powerful producers and redefined what
Hollywood cinema might be. Like other novices of the
time, they were less directors than â€œfilmmakersâ€ who had
tried their hand at every aspect of the craft, from writing to
postproduction. They understood movies as total creations and sought to put their personal stamp on everything they did. They were also well acquainted with each
other. Francis Ford Coppola acted as producer and mentor for George Lucas on American Graffiti. Lucas and
Steven Spielberg collaborated on several projects, notably
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1980). Still, their paths diverged.
With The Godfather, Coppola proved that he could turn
out a mainstream masterpiece, but he wanted to go further, to turn Hollywood into a center of artistic cinema.
Lucas and Spielberg wanted to modernize the system
without disturbing it.
Coppola broke through first. His youth comedy Youâ€™re
a Big Boy Now (1967) borrowed the flashy techniques of
Richard Lesterâ€™s Beatles films and the swinging-London
pictures. Coppola came to know the collapsing studio system from the inside, moving from Cormanâ€™s American
International Pictures to screenwriting (the Oscar-winning
script for Patton, 1970) and then to directing, with the
unsuccessful musical Finianâ€™s Rainbow (1968). The Godfather yielded him great financial rewards, but instead of
parlaying his success into a commercial career, he plunged
into an intimate, ambivalent art movie, The Conversation.
He turned The Godfather, Part II (1974) into a complex,
time-juggling piece. Then he embarked on the vast,
exhausting, budget-shattering Apocalypse Now (1979).
Coppolaâ€™s was bravura filmmaking on a grand scale. In
college he wanted to direct theater, and in many respects
he remained an actorâ€™s director. For The Godfather he
fought Paramount to hire Marlon Brando and Al Pacino and
gave prime roles to James Caan, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire,
and other little-known actors. During rehearsals he had
actors improvise scenes that would not be in the film,
and he held dinners in which the actors ate and drank and
talked in character. For The Godfather, Part II he added
New York stage legends like playwright Michael Gazzo
and Lee Strasberg, the dean of the Actors Studio.
This interest in performance was balanced by a risktaking cinematic sensibility. The Godfather was remarkably poised, partly because it refused the fast cutting and
camera movements of the early 1970s. Coppola and his
cinematographer, Gordon Willis, settled upon a style that
emphasized a static camera and actors moving through
rich, often gloomy, interiors (Color Plate 22.6). In contrast,
the fragmentary montage of sound and image in The Conversation sets the audience adrift in alternative times and
mental spaces. In Apocalypse Now, Coppola would strive
to give the Vietnam War an overpowering visual presence,
with psychedelic color, surround sound, and slow, hallucinatory dissolves.
Coppola had founded his company, American
Zoetrope, in 1969 in order to nurture his personal projects.
After years of yearning for a facility, he bought the Hollywood General studio in 1979, renamed it Zoetrope Studios, and announced that it would be a center of new
technology for feature films, an â€œelectronic cinemaâ€ based
on high-definition video sent out by satellite. He rebuilt the
stages and directed performances from his trailer via
video feeds. The main result was One from the Heart
(1982), a flamboyantly artificial musical drama filled with
stunning pictorial effects (Color Plate 22.7). One from the
Heart would influence the French cinÃ©ma du look of the
1980s (pp. 572â€“573), but the cost overruns and public
indifference led to massive failure. Soon Coppola was
forced to sell his facility to satisfy his creditors.
What followed were decades of difficulty. Coppola
launched some intriguing projects such as the teenage
22.20 Tucker: an in-camera optical
effect connects Tucker with his wife as
they talk on the phone.
474 CHAPTER 22â€ƒHollywoodâ€™s Fall and Rise: 1960â€“1980
THE 1970S BIG THREE: COPPOLA, SPIELBERG, AND LUCAS, continued
dramas The Outsiders (1983) and Rumble Fish (1983), as
well as the brash Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988,
produced by Lucas). He never ceased to experiment with
eye-catching compositions (22.20) and offbeat storytelling
techniques, such as the use of a fake publicity film in
Tucker and the silent-film-style special effects in Bram
Stokerâ€™s Dracula (1992). Yet he failed to restart his career.
Even Godfather III (1990), a sequel to his biggest hit, did
not redeem him, and he became a director for hire. Coppola began to be known not for his movies but for the
wine cultivated at his Napa Valley vineyard.
By contrast, Lucas and Spielberg sought to recover
their boyhood pleasure in movies. They tried to recreate
the uncomplicated fun of space opera (Star Wars), actionpacked serials (Raiders of the Lost Ark), and fantasy
(Close Encounters, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982). In
making Star Wars, Lucas pulled together the most exciting portions of several air battles from Hollywood combat
pictures, storyboarded the compiled sequence, and then
shot his space dogfights to match the older footage. As
producers, Lucas and Spielberg revived the family film of
adventure (Willow, 1988), fantasy (Gremlins, 1984), and
cartoon comedy (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, 1988; Color
Plate 22.8). While the Disney studio was floundering, two
baby boomers recaptured the old magic. Many critics
noted that Walt himself would have loved to make Star
Wars or E.T.
Spielberg divided his attention between what he
called â€œfast-food moviesâ€ (Jaws, the Indiana Jones series)
and more upscale directorial efforts (The Color Purple,
1985; Empire of the Sun, 1987). These dignified adaptations of best-selling novels had a nostalgic side, too, recalling the Hollywood prestige picture of the 1930s and 1940s.
Looking back to the great tradition, Spielberg filled his
films with reverent allusions to the studio program picture
(Always, 1989, is a remake of Victor Flemingâ€™s A Guy
Named Joe, 1943) and to Disney (Close Encounters; Hook,
1991; and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, 2001).
In one respect, Spielberg proved himself heir to the
studio directors. With the right material, he could make a
story come grippingly alive for his audience. Jaws balanced thrills with a skeptical attitude toward political leadership. Against the money-grubbing businesspeople of
Amity, the film offers three versions of male heroism: the
grizzled man of action Quint, the scientific rationalist
Hooper, and the reluctant pragmatist Sheriff Brody. Each
sequence hits a high pitch of emotional tension, and scene
by scene the audienceâ€™s anxiety is ratcheted up through
crisp editing, John Williamsâ€™s ominous score, and inventive
Panavision compositions (22.21). Likewise, in the Indiana
Jones and Jurassic Park series, Spielberg revamped the
traditions of Raoul Walsh and Ray Harryhausen for the
Spielbergâ€™s New Ageâ€“tinted spirituality, often
expressed as mute wonder at glittering technological marvels, proved no less popular. Over and over the young
man from divorced suburban parents replayed the drama
of a familyâ€™s breakup and a childâ€™s yearning for happiness.
He found emblematic imagesâ€”spindly aliens communicating through music, a boy bicycling silhouetted against the
moonâ€”that verged on kitsch but also struck a chord in millions. Spielberg became New Hollywoodâ€™s reliable showman, recalling Cecil B. DeMille, Alfred Hitchcock, and the
director whom he claimed he most resembled, Victor
Fleming, the contract professional who had a hand in both
Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.
Less of a movie fan than Coppola and Spielberg,
Lucas spent his youth watching television, reading comic
books, and tinkering with cars. He lovingly depicted the
world of cruising and rockâ€™nâ€™roll in American Graffiti,
whose meticulously designed music track and interwoven
coming-of-age crises presented the teen picture that
22.21 Ingenious depth staging in
The New Hollywood: Late 1960s to Late 1970s 475
studios had craved. Star Wars offered chivalric myth for
1970s teens, a quest romance in which young heroes could
find adventure, pure love, and a sacred cause (22.22). Not
surprisingly, Star Wars was published as a comic book
before the film was released. Coppola loved working with
actors, but Lucas avoided talking with them except for the
occasional â€œFaster!â€ He looked forward to creating his
scenes digitally, shooting isolated actors against blank
screens, or creating characters wholly on a computer. This
dream, the ultimate film extension of the comic-book aesthetic, was realized in the computer-generated Jar Jar
Binks of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999).
Lucas often called himself an independent filmmaker,
and in some sense he was. The triumph of Star Wars
allowed him to dictate terms to any studio in town. After
frequent clashes with Fox on The Empire Strikes Back
(1980), which ran over schedule and budget, he vowed
that he would never compromise again. Retreating to his
own fiefdom, Skywalker Ranch, Lucas oversaw a high-tech
wonderland based on a saga that gripped the imagination
of millions around the world and spawned Star Wars novels, toys, games, action figures, and video games. Skywalker staff maintained a volume, â€œThe Bible,â€ that listed
all the events occurring in the Star Wars universe.
Yet Lucas continued to believe that he was spinning a
simple tale grounded in basic human values. Like
Spielberg, Lucas hit on a resonant New Age theme: the
Force, representing God, the cosmos, or whatever the
viewer was comfortable with. Beneath all the hardware, he
claimed, Star Wars was about â€œredemption.â€ Spielberg
remarked, hyperbolically, that Star Wars marked the
moment â€œwhen the world recognized the value of
All three directors had colossal hits in the 1970s, but
only Spielberg and Lucas continued to rule over the next
forty years. At one point in the early 1980s, the pair were
responsible for the six top-grossing films of the postwar
period. Coppola foresaw the multimedia future but believed
that Zoetrope Studios could become a vertically integrated
firm on its own. His two peers saw deeper, letting the studios remain distributors while they provided content.
Lucasfilm and LucasArts created theatrical films, television
series, commercials, interactive games, computer animation, and special effects, as well as new editing and sound
systems. Spielbergâ€™s Amblin Entertainment produced some
of the eraâ€™s most popular films (Back to the Future, 1985;
Twister, 1996). Later, DreamWorks SKG, which Spielberg
founded with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen,
churned out features and television shows, most distributed by Universal. By 1980, Lucas and Spielberg had
become the most powerful director-producers in the industry, and they remained at the top into the new century.
22.22 The heroes of Star Wars
million in rentals, and soon UA collapsed as a Major,
eventually to be absorbed by MGM.
Studio executives complained that every young director wanted to be an auteur, free of financial constraints
(see â€œNotes and Queriesâ€ online). Ironically, the rise of
the New Hollywood, a director-based trend, led to a mistrust of directors. In the 1980s, studios strained to keep
filmmakers on track. Executives provided notes on scripts
and rushes, and test screenings sampled audiencesâ€™ reactions to the directorâ€™s cut.
A new era of blockbusters, built on packages and
deals and bolstered by stars and special effects, had begun.
Superman: The Movie (1978) was two years in the making.
This independently produced film wound up costing
somewhere between $40 million and $55 million. Gene
Hackman demanded a salary of $2 million, and Marlon
476 CHAPTER 22â€ƒHollywoodâ€™s Fall and Rise: 1960â€“1980
to challenge mainstream storytelling. Instead, they followed Spielberg and Lucas in reworking established genres
and referencing hallowed classics and directors. In several
ways, the New Hollywood defined itself by remaking the
old. â€œWe were very much concerned with making the Hollywood film,â€ recalled John Milius, â€œnot to make a lot of
money, but as artists.â€8
Many films became ironic or affectionate tributes to
the studio tradition. John Carpenterâ€™s Assault on Precinct
13 updates Hawksâ€™s Rio Bravo, pitting a stoic code of conduct against contemporary urban violence. Brian De
Palma became famous for his pastiches of Hitchcock:
Obsession (1976) is Vertigo with an incestuous twist;
Dressed to Kill (1980) confronts Psycho with contemporary
sexual mores. Milius revived the swashbuckling action
film in The Wind and the Lion (1975). These directors
often cultivated a style that borrowed from the masters.
Carpenterâ€™s rhythmic cutting in Assault on Precinct 13 is
indebted to Hawksâ€™s Scarface. De Palmaâ€™s overhead shots,
startling deep-focus imagery, and split-screen handling of
action recall Hitchcockâ€™s swaggering ingenuity. In Jaws,
Spielberg borrowed Hitchcockâ€™s zoom-in/track-out technique from Vertigo, a device that was to be used commonly
in 1980s film to show a background eerily squeezing
around an unmoving figure.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, directors had
become reliant on long lenses; entire scenes might be shot
with the depth-flattening telephoto. By contrast, Spielberg,
De Palma, and other New Hollywood directors reintroduced wide-angle-lens compositions reminiscent of Orson
Welles, William Wyler, and film noir. The results were
often striking depth of focus and distortion of figures
(22.23, 22.24). Yet directors did not abandon long lenses.
From the 1970s onward, they mixed occasional deep-focus
shots with flatter telephoto shots (22.25, 22.26). As the
filmsâ€™ scripts often updated 1940s and 1950s genres, so
Brando received $3 million for two weeksâ€™ work. Mario
Puzo, author of The Godfather, was paid $350,000 for the
Superman script plus 5 percent of the gross receipts. Millions more were invested in the elaborate sets and special
effects, prepared at Englandâ€™s Pinewood Studios. Aware of
the value of a franchise series, the producers shot two
films in one stretch of studio time so as to have a sequel
ready. The film featured a score by the certified mega-hit
composer John Williams (Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters). Released in December, Superman: The Movie eventually grossed over $80 million in its US run, becoming the
top release of 1979 and Warner Bros.â€™ most profitable film
to date. It spawned three sequels and millions in merchandising, along the way spurring new interest in superhero
comic books. Directed by Richard Donner, a man without
auteurist pretensions, it pointed the way to the expanded
blockbuster strategy of the 1980s and 1990s (p. 658).
No 1970s studio could afford to concentrate completely
on big-budget pictures. Each firm made only two or three
of these per year. But since the studioâ€™s distribution wing
needed from twelve to twenty pictures each year to pay for
itself, the rest of the program was filled out with less costly
itemsâ€”often, genre fare revamped for young audiences.
Comedy was pushed toward gross-out slapstick by directors and performers associated with National Lampoon
magazine and televisionâ€™s â€œSaturday Night Liveâ€ in Animal
House (1978). Musicals were updated to incorporate disco
(Saturday Night Fever, 1977) or to playfully mock 1950s
teen culture (Grease, 1978).
Now that simply updating genres occasionally provided hits, many directors steered away from the experimentation encouraged by the art-cinema vogue of the late
1960s and early 1970s. Most young directors did not try
22.23 The return of wide-angle
shots: Close Encounters of the Third
The New Hollywood: Late 1960s to Late 1970s 477
major scale. The horror film, long associated with lowbudget exploitation, was given a new respectability in
Rosemaryâ€™s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist and became an
industry mainstay. Carpenterâ€™s Halloween (1978) spawned
a long cycle of stalker-slasher films in which the victims,
usually voluptuous teenagers, meet gory ends. Adaptations
from best-selling novels by Stephen King yielded Carrie
(1976, De Palma) and The Shining (1980, Stanley
The other significant genre to be revived was science
fiction. Kubrickâ€™s 2001: A Space Odyssey was the major
forerunner, but it was Lucas and Spielberg who impressed
Hollywood with the profit possibilities of a genre previously identified with kiddie matinees and teenage exploitation. Star Wars showed that space adventure, mounted
with updated special effects, could attract a new generation of moviegoers, and its unprecedented success triggered not only its own film series but one based on the
television program Star Trek. Close Encounters of the Third
Kind turned the 1950s â€œinvasion filmâ€ into a cozy, quasimystical experience of communion with extraterrestrial
their style became a synthesis of techniques derived from
Several films of the New Hollywood revisited traditional genres. The Godfather movies revived the classic
gangster film but gave the formula some fresh twists. The
Godfather (1972) emphasizes the genreâ€™s conventional
ethnic divisions (Italian/Irish/Jewish/WASP) and its
machismo values but adds a new stress on family unity and
generational succession. Michael Corleone, at first remote
from the â€œfamily business,â€ becomes his fatherâ€™s rightful
heir, at the cost of distancing himself from his wife Kay.
The Godfather, Part II (1974) shows how Michaelâ€™s father
became a success, harking back to another genre formula,
the emigrant gangsterâ€™s rise to power. This earlier time
period is intercut with Michaelâ€™s expanding authority and
ruthlessness in the 1950s. Whereas the first Godfather ends
with Michaelâ€™s full assimilation into the male line of the
family, Part II closes with him locked in autumnal shadow,
alone and brooding, unable to trust anyone.
The Godfather did not lead to a renaissance of the
gangster film, but two other genres were revived on a
22.24 Debt collecting in Little Italy:
the â€œmookâ€ scene from Mean Streets.
22.25, 22.26 In Catch-22 (1970), Mike Nichols intercuts exaggerated deep-focus shots with images taken with a
much longer lens.
478 CHAPTER 22â€ƒHollywoodâ€™s Fall and Rise: 1960â€“1980
the studios in the 1970s. Woody Allen mocked the caper
film (Take the Money and Run, 1969) and the sciencefiction film (Sleeper, 1973). Mel Brooks made raucous,
bawdy parodies of the Western (Blazing Saddles, 1973),
the Universal horror film (Young Frankenstein, 1974), the
Hitchcockian thriller (High Anxiety, 1977), and the historical epic (History of the World, Part I, 1981). David and
Jerry Zucker, along with Jim Abrahams, savaged the disaster film in Airplane! (1980). Such zany treatment of genre
conventions had already been employed in silent slapstick
and in the comedies of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Mocking Hollywood was
itself a Hollywood tradition.
Scorsese as Synthesis
A few filmmakers managed to express personal concerns
by adapting aspects of the European art film, and several
more did so by reviving the studio tradition. Very few,
however, were able to do both. Coppola managed for a
time, but Martin Scorsese blended both possibilities more
consistently. Brought up on Hollywood features, Italian
Neorealism, and â€œMillion Dollar Movieâ€ TV broadcasts,
Scorsese studied filmmaking at New York University. He
made an underground reputation with several shorts and
two low-budget features before his Mean Streets (1973)
drew wide attention. Alice Doesnâ€™t Live Here Any More
(1974) and Taxi Driver propelled him to fame. Raging Bull
(1980), a biography of prizefighter Jake LaMotta, won
still greater notice; many critics consider it the finest
American film of the 1980s. Scorseseâ€™s later films (notably King of Comedy, 1982; The Last Temptation of Christ,
1988; GoodFellas, 1989) cemented his reputation as the
most critically acclaimed American director of his
As a movie brat, Scorsese was heavily indebted to the
Hollywood tradition. Taxi Driver was scored by Bernard
Herrmann, Hitchcockâ€™s composer, and, as preparation for
shooting New York, New York (1976), Scorsese studied
1940s Hollywood musicals. Later, with Cape Fear (1991),
he would remake a classic thriller. Like Altman and Allen,
however, he was also influenced by European cinema. A
shot change in Raging Bull was as likely to derive from
Godard as from George Stevensâ€™s Shane, and the exploration of Rupert Pupkinâ€™s world in King of Comedy creates a
Felliniesque ambiguity about what is real and what is
Scorseseâ€™s film-consciousness also emerges in his virtuoso displays of technique. Alongside intense, aggressive
dialogue scenes designed to highlight the skills of performers such as Robert De Niro, there are scenes of
wisdom. After these films, science fiction would remain a
dominant Hollywood genre, often as a showcase for new
The young directors acquired a taste for tradition
from film school or late-night TV, but an older figure
gained it more spontaneously. Starting as a studio contract player, Clint Eastwood moved from movie bit-parts
to a successful 1960s television series (Rawhide) and
then to movie stardom in Sergio Leoneâ€™s spaghetti Westerns (p. 406). Returning to Hollywood, Eastwood deepened his star image in veteran action director Don
Siegelâ€™s Cooganâ€™s Bluff (1968) and Dirty Harry (1972).
Eastwoodâ€™s screen persona had a cynical, even sadistic,
cast that set him apart from Paul Newman and John
Wayne, his main box-office rivals. He began directing
with Play Misty for Me (1971), casting himself as a disc
jockey stalked by an obsessive fan. Eastwood directed
conventional action fare like The Eiger Sanction (1975),
but he also brought a sour, mythic feel to the Western in
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and experimented with
his image in The Gauntlet (1977) and Bronco Billy (1980).
He shrewdly starred in other directorsâ€™ genre efforts,
which gave him big hits like Any Which Way But Loose
Eastwood shot his films fast and cheap, a process that
yielded solid profits but sometimes made them look staid
in an age of hyper-produced extravaganzas. Yet he became
one of Hollywoodâ€™s most respected directors. He worked
in nearly every genre, from war film (Heartbreak Ridge,
1986; American Sniper, 2014) and crime dramas (Mystic
River, 2003) to biographical sagas like Bird (1988), a testament to his love of jazz, and J. Edgar (2011). He revived
the Western with Unforgiven (1992) and even made a
musical (Jersey Boys, 2014). His versatility, along with his
unemphatic style, made critics call him the last classical
studio director, but his work did have an adventurous side.
He tried unconventional drama in Million Dollar Baby
(2004) and Hereafter (2010), and his paired Iwo Jima
films Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima (both
2006) offered complementary perspectives on warrior cultures East and West. Although he was known as a conservative, Gran Turino (2008) was a pungent commentary on
forces that would deny immigrants a place in America.
Perhaps Eastwoodâ€™s ultimate commitment was to the solitary man of any political persuasion who, despite flaws
and guilt, persists in doing his duty. And although Eastwoodâ€™s work is marbled with violence, his tribute to the
heroic pilot of Sully (2016) resonates because, as one rescue worker puts it, â€œToday, nobody dies.â€
Eastwoodâ€™s calm craftsmanship seemed distinctly
unhip alongside the satires and parodies pouring out of
Opportunities for Independents 479
OPPORTUNITIES FOR INDEPENDENTS
The difficulties and recovery of the Majors were bound up
with the fate of independent production in the United
States during this period. The 1948 Paramount decision
and the rise of the teenage market gave independent companies like Allied Artists and American International Pictures (AIP) an entry into the low-budget market (p. 303).
During the late 1960s, the low-budget independents
grew stronger, partly through the relaxing of the Production Code and partly through the decline of the Majors.
With the slackening of censorship controls, the 1960s
saw growth in erotic exploitation. â€œNudiesâ€ surfaced from
the 16mm â€œstag filmâ€ world and could be seen in decaying picture palaces in Americaâ€™s downtown neighborhoods. Eroticism became mixed with gore in Herschell
Gordon Lewisâ€™s Blood Feast (1963) and 2000 Maniacs
(1964). Russ Meyer began in nudies before discovering
his idiosyncratic blend of hammering editing, gruesome
violence, and wildly overblown sex scenes (Motorpsycho,
1965; Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, 1966). Meyer films like
physical action served up with dazzling camera flourishes. These action sequences are often abstract and
wordless, built out of hypnotic imagery: a yellow cab
gliding through hellishly smoky streets (Taxi Driver), billiard balls ricocheting across a pool table (The Color of
Money, 1986). Each of the boxing scenes in Raging Bull is
staged and filmed differently (22.27, 22.28). Whereas
other movie brats created spectacle through high-tech
special effects, Scorsese engaged the viewer by a bold,
Like Allenâ€™s films, Scorseseâ€™s had strong autobiographical undercurrents. Mean Streets drew on his Italian
American youth (see 22.24). After years of self-destructive
behavior, he felt ready to tackle Raging Bull: â€œI understood
then what Jake was, but only after having gone through a
similar experience. I was just lucky that there happened to
be a project there ready for me to express this.â€9
as a result of his emotional absorption in his stories,
Scorseseâ€™s films center on driven, even obsessed, protagonists, and his technique often puts us firmly in their
minds. Rapid point-of-view shots, slow-motion imagery,
and subjective sound heighten our identification with the
prizefighter Jake LaMotta, the taxi driver Travis Bickle,
and the aspiring stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin
(22.29). Like Eastwood, Scorsese continued his career
into the 2010s, usually pursuing a â€œone for them, one for
meâ€ principle. He was willing to work for hire (The Aviator, 2004; Shutter Island, 2010) in order to realize projects
to which he had an almost sacramental devotion (Gangs of
New York, 2002; Silence, 2016). His flamboyant technique
could energize both a staid historical drama (The Age of
Innocence, 1993) and a tabloid saga of American excess
(The Wolf of Wall Street, 2013). For over forty years, Scorsese showed that a filmmaker could skillfully blend experimental impulses, personal vision, and the respect for
traditional Hollywood craftsmanship that characterized
22.27, 22.28 Two different fights in Raging Bull, one objective, the other subjective from Jakeâ€™s point of view.
22.29 Aspiring talk-show host Rupert Pupkin interviews
cardboard cut-outs of Liza Minnelli and Jerry Lewis in his
basement (King of Comedy).
480 CHAPTER 22â€ƒHollywoodâ€™s Fall and Rise: 1960â€“1980
Vixen (1968) blazed the trail for the mainstreaming of
pornography in the 1970s.
The youthpics craze was fed by AIPâ€™s cycle of
motorcycle-gang movies and Wild in the Streets (1968).
The films of AIPâ€™s main director, Roger Corman, had a
strong influence on young directors of the late 1960s, and
AIP gave opportunities to Coppola, Scorsese, Bogdanovich, Milius, De Palma, Robert De Niro, and Jack
Nicholson. The low-budget independent film Night of the
Living Dead (1968), rejected by AIP as too gory, went on
to become a colossal cult hit and launched the career of
director George Romero (22.30).
During most of the 1970s as well, independent production proved a robust alternative to the Majors. As the
studios cut back production, low-budget films helped fill
the market. Firms began to specialize in certain genresâ€”
martial-arts, action pictures, erotic pictures (sexploitation). Films aimed at African Americans (blaxploitation)
showcased young black performers and, sometimes, black
creative personnel like directors Gordon Parks, Sr. (Shaft,
1971) and Michael Schultz (Cooley High, 1975; Car Wash,
1976). In the wake of Night of the Living Dead and The
Exorcist, the teenage horror market was tapped with films
like Tobe Hooperâ€™s grotesque Texas Chainsaw Massacre
(1974) and John Carpenterâ€™s more sober and expensive
Halloween. Cormanâ€™s new company, New World Pictures,
created cycles and trained new directors (Jonathan
Demme, John Sayles, James Cameron).
In some venues, the cheaper films could find an audience denied to the glossier studio product. Sunn International discovered, to the Majorsâ€™ surprise, that there was
still a family audience who could be lured from the
television set with wildlife adventures and quasi-religious
documentaries. Tom Laughlin, the enterprising directorproducer-star of Billy Jack (1971), showed that small-town
viewers would still come to films that mixed sentiment,
action, and populist themes. Meanwhile, teenagers and college students began flocking to outrageous movies like John
Watersâ€™s Pink Flamingos (1974), which owed a large debt of
underground film (Chapter 24). Theaters found that
midnight movies would attract a young crowd; The Rocky
Horror Picture Show (1975) and Eraserhead (1978) became
profitable almost solely through such shows.
The Majors responded by absorbing the sensational
elements that had given independent films their edge. Bigbudget films became more sexually explicit, and for a time
Russ Meyer, exploiter of erotica, worked for 20th Century
Fox (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, 1970). The Exorcist
traded on blasphemy and visceral disgust to a new degree.
Star Wars and Close Encounters absorbed elements of lowbudget science fiction (Silent Running, 1971; Dark Star,
1974), while Alien (1979) and other films reflected the
new standards of gory violence established by independent directors such as Carpenter and David Cronenberg
(Shivers, 1975; Rabid, 1977; The Brood, 1979). â€œâ€˜Exploitationâ€™ films were so named because you made a film about
something wild with a great deal of action, a little sex, and
possibly some sort of strange gimmick,â€ wrote Corman.
â€œ[Later] the majors saw they could have enormous commercial success with big-budget exploitation films.â€10
Apart from the mass-market independents, there
emerged a more artistically ambitious independent sector.
New York sustained an â€œoff-Hollywoodâ€ tendency. Shirley
Clarke, known for her dance and experimental shorts,
adapted the play The Connection (1962) and made the
semidocumentary The Cool World (1963). Jonas and
Adolfas Mekas modeled Guns of the Trees (1961) and
Hallelujah the Hills (1963) on the experiments of European
John Cassavetes was the most famous member of this
off-Hollywood group. A New York actor, Cassavetes made
a career on the stage and in films and television. He
scraped up donations to direct Shadows (1961). â€œThe film
you have just seen was an improvisationâ€: this curt closing
title announced Cassavetesâ€™s key aesthetic decision. The
story, about two black brothers and their sister in the
New York jazz and party scene, was outlined in advance
and the dramatic development of each scene was planned.
During filming, however, the actors were free to create
their own dialogue. Although shooting in a semidocumentary style, with a grimy, grainy look (22.31), Cassavetes
also relied on deep-focus compositions and poetic interludes familiar from contemporary Hollywood cinema.
22.30 With Night of the Living Dead, Romero pioneered the
low-budget horror film, often shot with friends playing walk-on
monster roles. The genre would be a mainstay of independent
filmmaking from the 1970s onward.
Shadows won festival prizes and led Cassavetes to undertake a pair of ill-fated Hollywood projects. He returned to
independent cinema, financing his films by acting in
mainstream pictures, and became an emblematic figure
for younger filmmakers.
Basing his aesthetic on a conception of raw realism,
Cassavetes created a string of films featuring quasiimprovised performances and casual camerawork. Faces
(1968) and Husbands (1970), with their sudden zooms to
close-up and their search for revelatory detail, use Direct
Cinema techniques to comment on the bleak disappointments and deceptions of middle-class American couples
(22.32). Characteristically, his counterculture comedy
Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) centers on the love affair of
a middle-aged hippie and a lonely museum curator. In A
Woman Under the Influence (1974), Opening Night (1979),
and Love Streams (1984), the drama alternates between
mundane routines and painful outbursts that push each
actor to near-hysterical limits. This spasmodic rhythm,
and his focus on the anxieties underlying adult love and
work, made Cassavetesâ€™s midlife melodramas seem experimental by 1970s and 1980s Hollywood standards.
The New York scene received a further burst of
energy from Joan Micklin Silverâ€™s Hester Street (1975), a
drama of Jewish life in late-nineteenth-century New York.
Filmed for less than $500,000, it was released nationwide
and earned more than $5 million. When it received an
Academy Award nomination, the film sparked a new
awareness of off-Hollywood filmmaking.
The independent impulse spread to regional filmmakers, who managed to make low-budget features centered
on cultures seldom brought to the screen. John Waters
revealed Baltimore as a campy Peyton Place (Female Trouble, 1975), while Victor NuÃ±ezâ€™s Gal Young â€™Un (1979)
took place in Florida during the Depression. Another historical drama was John Hanson and Rob Nilssonâ€™s Northern Lights (1979), set in 1915 North Dakota during labor
unrest. It won the best first-film award at the Cannes Film
Slowly, alternative venues were emerging for independent film. In addition to New Yorkâ€™s Anthology Film
Archive (founded in 1970), several festivals were established in Los Angeles (known as Filmex, 1971), Telluride,
Colorado (1973), and Toronto and Seattle (1975), as well
as the US Film Festival (1978), later known as Sundance.
At the same time, enterprising filmmakers organized the
Independent Feature Project (IFP) as an association of
independent film artists. The IFP established, in 1979, the
Independent Feature Film Market as a showcase for finished films and works in progress. The American independent cinema was poised for takeoff.
During the 1960s, the failing studios searched for new
corporate identities and business models. After some winnowing, the 1970s set in place patterns that would dominate American film for the future. A new generation of
moguls would partner with a new generation of producerdirectors, typified by Lucas and Spielberg, under the auspices of a conglomerate. The studios would concentrate
on funding and making must-see movies. Alongside the
expanding industry was an independent sector whose fortunes fluctuated but whose commitment to alternative stories and styles increased the diversity of US film culture.
1. Quoted in Peter Bogdanovich, Who the Devil Made It
(New York: Knopf, 1997), p. 250.
2. Quoted in Tag Gallagher, John Ford: The Man and His
Films (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986),
22.31 The roughly shot beating of Ben (Shadows).
22.32 After joking and shouting, Jeannie, whom Frost has
picked up in a bar, is distressed when he breaks down in tears.
Soon she finds out that heâ€™s pretending (Faces).
482 CHAPTER 22â€ƒHollywoodâ€™s Fall and Rise: 1960â€“1980
3. Quoted in Peter Cowie, Coppola (London: Faber and
Faber, 1990), p. 61.
4. Quoted in Eric Lax, Woody Allen: A Biography
(New York: Knopf, 1991), p. 255.
5. Gone with the Wind and the Disney animated classics
had higher all-time returns, but they were rereleased at
intervals over many years. Still, if rentals are adjusted for
inflation, Gone with the Wind remains the highest-earning
film of all time.
6. Quoted in Stephen M. Silverman, The Fox That Got
Away: The Last Days of the Zanuck Dynasty at Twentieth
Century-Fox (Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1988), p. 303.
7. Quoted in Bernard Weinraub, â€œLuke Skywalker Goes
Home,â€ in Sally Kline, ed., George Lucas Interviews
(Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999), p. 217.
8. Quoted in Michael Goodwin and Naomi Wise, On the
Edge: The Life and Times of Francis Coppola (New York:
Morrow, 1989), p. 30.
9. Quoted in David Thompson and Ian Christie, eds.,
Scorsese on Scorsese (London: Faber and Faber, 1989),
10. Roger Corman and Jim Jerome, How I Made a Hundred
Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime (New York:
Random House, 1990), p. 34.
We discuss some topics in this chapter further on our blog, Observations on Film Art:
â€œReplay it again, Clint: Sully and the simulationsâ€
â€œWho got played? A guest post by Jeff Smith on The Playerâ€
â€œHUGO: Scorseseâ€™s birthday present to Georges MÃ©liÃ¨sâ€
POLITICALLY CRITICAL CINEMA
OF THE 1960s AND 1970s
Tensions between the Western powers and the Soviet bloc did not lessen
during the 1960s, but there were signs that the bipolar-world model
was fracturing. Growing rivalry between China and the Soviet Union led to
an open break in 1960. During the rest of the decade, Eastern European
peoples strained to loosen Moscowâ€™s hold. At the same time, the Third
World appeared to be coming into its own. Colonies became sovereign
states, and many of their leaders rejected both Soviet and Western ways.
Third-Worldism, as it came to be called, was the hope that these developing
countries would not only find true liberation but use the experience of
oppression to build more just societies.
Economic progress was first on the agenda, but regions were moving at
an uneven pace. Mexico, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea were briskly
becoming manufacturing centers. India and Africa, however, were not moving fast enough to offset the rapid rise in their populations.
Political violence intensified the difficulties of development. Apart
from the major confrontations between East and Westâ€”in Cuba, Vietnam,
and the Middle Eastâ€”the Third World suffered coups dâ€™Ã©tats, external
aggression, civil wars, and ethnic strife. These struggles often gave rise to
revolutionary hopes. By the late 1960s, radical observers suggested that sovereignty, nationalism, and economic reform were not enough to help the
developing nations. Militants argued that the countriesâ€™ class systems, holdovers from colonial days, would have to be restructured through socialist
revolution. â€œFidelismo,â€ the belief in persistent guerrilla warfare of the sort
that had succeeded in Cuba, fortified many resistance movements in Latin
America, Africa, and Asia.
Film history was profoundly affected by these events in the Third World.
As industrialization spread, so did filmgoing. The continued growth of Third
World citiesâ€”at the rate of 10 million to 11 million people per year in the
1960sâ€”expanded audiences. Significantly, this occurred as filmgoing was
Hanoi, Tuesday the 13th
Dillinger Is Dead
484 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
declining in Europe and the United States. A larger proportion of the world film audience was made up of Indians,
Africans, and Asians.
The Third World was at the forefront of revolutionary
cinema, foreshadowing trends that would emerge in the
developed countries. People were pushing for social
changeâ€”through protest, through resistance to authority,
and sometimes through violent confrontation. Between
the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s, filmmaking and film
viewing became political acts to a degree not seen since
World War II. The first part of this chapter examines how
filmmakers treated cinema as a tool of social change and a
weapon of political liberation.
In the Soviet bloc countries, many citizens strained to
liberalize Communist societies, and the most politically
provocative works of Eastern European and Soviet cinema
often asserted the individuality of the artistâ€™s imagination.
In Western Europe and North America, unorthodox leftwing groups criticized government policies, educational
institutions, and economic conditions. Radical politics
entered daily life. As was often said, the personal had
Many Western radicals were suspicious of the democratic humanism that Soviet bloc reformists craved. Capitalist society, many believed, maintained an â€œillusory
democracyâ€ and â€œrepressive tolerance.â€ Radicals often
took Third World leaders like Mao Zedong, Che Guevara,
and Fidel Castro as models of popular revolution. By the
mid-1970s, however, militancy gave way to a micropolitics
that focused pragmatically on particular issues. What one
historian has called â€œthe political culture of dissentâ€ began
to permeate everyday life in the Western countries.1
second part of this chapter looks at how this culture
shaped filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds.
IN THE THIRD WORLD
Brazilâ€™s Cinema NÃ´vo (pp. 424â€“427) had struck a compromise between auteur cinema and political critique. Its
films were addressed primarily to cultivated viewers who
appreciated European art cinema. In the late 1960s, Third
World directors began making politically critical films
aimed at broader audiences.
In some countries, politicized cinema arose from the
same concerns for social critique that had propelled filmmakers in the 1950s. Actors or directors who had found
success in a well-organized industry were in a strong
position to make critical films. The Egyptian Youssef
Chahine, for instance, was able to exploit his commercial
reputation to direct such populist films as The Land
(1969; 23.1). In Turkey, the actor Yilmaz GÃ¼ney also
benefited from a growing national industry. His popularity enabled him to direct Umut (â€œHope,â€ 1970), in which
GÃ¼ney stars as a taxi man hoping to strike it rich in the
lottery. The filmâ€™s emphasis on daily routine and its
episodic structure put it in the lineage of Neorealism and
the early 1960s art cinema, while its slow pace and use of
temps morts exemplify a resistance to action-filled plotting (23.2). Umut inspired a new, â€œengagedâ€ filmmaking
23.1 A smooth crane shot reflects the technical prowess of
Egyptâ€™s well-established film industry (The Land).
23.2 Umut: as Djabbar (played by GÃ¼ney) and his customer
talk of finding buried treasure, they drive through a
neighborhood whose wealth mocks their dreams.
Political Filmmaking in the Third World 485
emergence of a non-Soviet-style Communism, and Mao
Zedongâ€™s pronouncements carried enormous authority
among radicals throughout the 1960s. In Vietnam, Ho
Chi Minhâ€™s National Liberation Front, at war with the corrupt regime in the South, had managed to resist US
Such developments seemed to herald a mass revolution of oppressed peoples. Algerian psychiatrist Frantz
Fanon argued that colonized people had to recognize
that their minds had been restructured by Western
domination. â€œPeople of the world,â€ Mao urged in 1964,
â€œunite and defeat the US aggressors and all their running dogs!â€3 At the 1966 Conference of Solidarity in
Havana, speakers advocated that Asia, Africa, and Latin
America organize to fight Western imperialism and
The possibility of tricontinental revolution inspired
many filmmakers. In the Middle East, for instance, there
grew up a New Cinema movement dedicated to Third
World revolution. Egyptian anticolonialist films such as
Salah Abou Seifâ€™s Cairo â€™30 (1966) and Tewfik Salehâ€™s
The Rebels (1968) inspired filmmakers in Lebanon,
Tunisia, and Egypt to make militant features. Palestinian
and Algerian resistance organizations made short propaganda pieces. Moroccans established a journal, Cinema
3 (the â€œ3â€ standing for Third World). In December
1973, concurrent with a conference of nonaligned countries, Algiers hosted a meeting of Third World filmmakers. Similar activities took place in Asia, Africa, and
The fundamental premise of revolutionary Third
World film was that all art, even if it seems to be only
entertainment, is deeply political. The stories that are told,
the views with which the viewer is asked to sympathize,
the values implicit in the action, and even the way in which
the story is toldâ€”all were held to reflect political ideologies. The domination of Hollywood films in the Third
World thus provided an obvious target. Revolutionary cinema would not only reject the politics that masqueraded as
entertainment, not only attack the imperialist ideology
carried by American movies, but also offer the viewer a
politically liberating film experience.
Political Genres and Style
To some extent, revolutionary cinema employed traditional genres, such as documentary or socially critical
films set in the present day. But in Latin America and
Africa, filmmakers forged new genres of fictional
In India, Mrinal Senâ€™s Bhuvan Shome (1969) sprang
largely from the individual filmmakerâ€™s urge to launch a
social critique. Sen had participated in the left-wing Indian
Peopleâ€™s Theatre movement and had made films since
1956, but Bhuvan Shome, a comic satire on neocolonialist
bureaucrats, led him to what he called â€œa taste for pamphleteering.â€2
Using animation, Soviet-Montage-style cutting,
and documentary footage of protest marches, combined
with realistic scenes in the countryside, Sen created a
comic satire on a cold-hearted bureaucrat who decides to
relieve his boredom by hunting birds (23.3). Along with
Ritwik Ghatak, the leftist director who had gone into
teaching (p. 368), Sen helped create the New Indian Cinema of the early 1970s.
Chahine, GÃ¼ney, and Sen exemplify the general politicized tendency of Third-World filmmaking in the late
1960s. But Third-Worldism called for a more militant film
practice. Many believed that Third World revolution was
in the offing. In 1962, Algeria won a war of independence
from France. African colonies, newly liberated, showed
promise of indigenous rule.
Some guerrilla wars in Latin America were initially
successful. The Palestine Liberation Organization,
founded in 1964, promised to win Palestinians a homeland. Fidel Castro had led a revolution in Cuba, and the
US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion had been easily repelled.
Chinaâ€™s split with Moscow in 1960 seemed to signal the
23.3 When Bhuvan Shome, a cold bureaucrat, goes hunting
near a village, a warm-hearted woman teaches him about life,
including making him camouflage himself as a tree (Bhuvan
486 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
misery that you have never known and barely imagine.â€4
It was this revolutionary ferment, and the challenge it
flung at Europe and the United States, that many Latin
American filmmakers sought to advance.
Throughout most of the century, Latin America had
been economically dependent on the Western-controlled
world market. Most countries exported natural resources
in order to develop their industrial infrastructures. But the
1960s saw a stagnation in trade throughout Latin America.
This in turn encouraged the growth of authoritarian
military regimes, which sought to attract foreign investment and repress political dissent. Many activists went
underground. During the early 1970s, Brazil was only one
of several South American countries to be assailed by
guerrilla warfare and urban terrorism.
In addition, the United States sought to stifle leftwing activity that could disrupt business. President
Kennedy sponsored the Cuban exiles who invaded at the
Bay of Pigs in 1961, President Johnson quashed a 1964
uprising in the Dominican Republic, and the Central
Intelligence Agency sought to subvert uncooperative
regimes, notably that of Salvador Allende in Chile. Such
actions only intensified the sense of Latin America as a
battleground between economic imperialism and mass
Outside Cuba, the only country to undergo a left-wing
revolution, few artists took sides in this conflict. Latin
American novelists of the 1960s were more famous for
their evocative â€œmagical realismâ€ than for partisan positions. Some painters were more socially critical: the
Argentine Antonio Berni made disturbing collages out of
junked First World commodities, and the Colombian
Fernando Botero mocked authority in his eerie paintings
of inflated, vacantly staring priests and generals. Closer to
cinema was the nueva canciÃ³n (â€œnew songâ€) movement,
which began in Chile as a mix of indigenous sources with
politically critical lyrics. The music spread throughout
Latin America, becoming internationally popular through
the Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez. Film played an equally
important role in presenting revolutionary ideology
through popular art.
In Cuba, filmmaking was sponsored by Fidel Castroâ€™s
regime, but elsewhere militant filmmakers usually gathered in twos or threes, often working with political groups
or labor unions. It might happen, as in Argentina and
Chile, that a new government would support or at least
tolerate their activities, but the resurgence of right-wing
regimes drove filmmakers into exile. By the mid-1970s,
many worked outside their native countries.
More than other Third World filmmakers, Latin
American directors were haunted by Hollywood cinema.
One common genre was the historical examination of
mass struggles against imperialism. In almost every country, filmmakers found incidents of resistance or rebellion
that could be made relevant to the contemporary scene.
There was also the exile film, which portrayed the experiences of individuals cut off from their roots and reflecting
on their native country from abroad. African filmmakers
studying abroad in the 1960s often made films in this
genre; Latin American filmmakers also used it to examine
their political exile in the 1970s. Yet another genre dealt
with indigenous cultures, seeking a national identity
untainted by colonialism. In this genre (known in African
cinema as the return to the sources), filmmakers drew on
folklore, myth, and ritual, then transformed these elements so as to reflect critically upon native traditions or
Stylistically, militant Third World filmmakers refused
the technical gloss identified with Hollywood spectacle.
The lightweight cameras and informal lighting of Direct
Cinema let them make films cheaply and quickly. Such
techniques also created a sense of a direct, intimate
encounter with the event. The rawness of style was itself a
Yet the filmmakers were also open to aesthetic subtleties. Cuban and Chilean directors followed Glauber Rocha
in making the handheld camera an aggressive, kinetic
force. Moreover, since sound was seldom recorded during
filming, postsynchronization offered rich possibilities for
manipulating the sound track in relation to the image.
Cuban directors, Argentinaâ€™s Cine LiberaciÃ³n, and the
New Chilean Cinema directors also revived Soviet Montage techniques as part of their rejection of Hollywood
Most militant Third World filmmakers came from the
middle classes, and many had been trained in Europe.
They were intellectuals with deep knowledge of American
and European film traditions. As a result, their films often
blend formal innovation with direct emotional appeal.
Many films of this tradition challenged Western conceptions of cinematic art by showing that mass audiences
were not as intolerant of experimentation as Hollywood
and Europe had trained them to be. An aesthetically complex film could also address the audienceâ€™s political
In 1963, the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes wrote,
â€œSouth of your border, my North American friends, lies
a continent in revolutionary fermentâ€”a continent that
possesses immense wealth and nevertheless lives in a
Political Filmmaking in the Third World 487
fiction. The use of nonactors, the immediacy of the
handheld camera, the interpolation of newsreel footage,
and the focus on topical issues gave the films the urgency
of reportage, even if their action was set in the past. At the
same time, by assimilating modernist techniquesâ€”
fragmentary flashbacks, elliptical narration, to-camera
addressâ€”directors avoided the stolidity of Soviet Socialist
Driven by a desire to capture the continentâ€™s political aspirations, new directors sought a more immediate
contact with the public than was characteristic of most
other young cinemas. In Cuba, directors merged experimental form with entertainment. Like the tropicalist
Cinema NÃ´vo works (p. 427), some films drew on
folklore traditions, particularly oral storytelling. Other
films were designed to provoke discussion after the
Latin American filmmakers also resembled the
Soviet Montagists and the Italian Neorealists in their
eagerness to connect theory and practice. In the late
1960s, critical discussion of political cinema generated
essays and manifestos, notably Fernando Solanas and
Octavio Getinoâ€™s â€œTowards a Third Cinemaâ€ (1969) and
Julio Garcia Espinosaâ€™s â€œFor an Imperfect Cinemaâ€
(1969). No theoretical â€œlineâ€ characterized all Third
World cinema (see â€œNotes and Queriesâ€ online), but such
writings, accompanied by films of striking energy and
force, crystallized issues faced by revolutionary filmmakers around the globe.
Cuba: Cinema of Revolutionâ€ƒIn 1956, a band of exiles
landed on Cubaâ€™s shores, determined to overthrow President Fulgencio Batista. Less than three years later, Batista
fled the country. On New Yearâ€™s Day 1959, Fidel Castro led
his guerrilla forces into Havana. Latin America had seen its
first revolution since World War II.
Castro quickly expropriated land, executed officials of
the hated Batista regime, and nationalized the economy.
Cuba identified itself as a socialist state and swung its
American films had dominated southern markets since
the mid-1910s. Hollywoodâ€™s flirtation with South
American locales and music during the 1930s and 1940s,
although presenting stereotyped images, intensified audience interest in US genres and stars. The dreamlike glamour of the studio cinema profoundly influenced the
countriesâ€™ cultures. The Argentine novelist Manuel Puig
has recalled that for him the American films shown on his
small townâ€™s movie screen created a â€œparallel reality . . .
which, I was convinced, existed somewhere beyond my
town, and in all three dimensions.â€5
Politicized Latin American directors sometimes
assimilated elements of the Hollywood product they knew
so well, but they also turned to foreign models of socially
critical cinema. As in the 1950s, Italian Neorealism was
a pervasive influence, particularly in the handling of
nonprofessional actors and location shooting. Direct
Cinema documentary was also an important source, as it
had been for the Cinema NÃ´vo group. In Tarahumara
(1964), for instance, the Mexican Luis Alcoriza uses the
handheld camera much as Ruy Guerra had in Os Fuzis
(23.4). For both aesthetic and economic reasons, most
Latin American directors shot on location with nonprofessional performers, using a lightweight camera and
In editing, filmmakers usually relied on the principles
of Hollywood continuity. There were, however, some
experiments that harked back to Soviet silent cinema, particularly Sergei Eisensteinâ€™s â€œintellectual montage.â€ For
example, the Argentine La Hora de los hornos (The Hour
of the Furnaces, 1968) crosscuts a soft-drink ad with the
slaughter of a bull (23.5). Similarly, the use of sound
could intensify thematically pointed editing. In the Cuban
film Memories of Underdevelopment (1968), newsreel shots
of victims of military torture are intercut with society
All these stylistic tendencies, along with elements
drawn from European young cinemas, led Latin American
film to blur the boundaries between documentary and
23.4, leftâ€ƒIn a nervous handheld shot,
the Indian Corachi confronts his
23.5, rightâ€ƒIntellectual montage in
The Hour of the Furnaces: the bull,
evoking the slaughter of the workers in
Eisensteinâ€™s Strike, represents the
oppression of Argentines working in
the beef-export industry.
488 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
Alvarez, creator of Now! (1965), Hanoi, Tuesday the 13th
(1967), 79 Springtimes (1969), and other short films.
Alvarez combined stock footage, titles, animation, and
wide-ranging sound sources to create partisan agit-films in
the Soviet Montage vein (23.6, 23.7).
Despite Cubaâ€™s alignment with Moscow, artists did
not embrace Socialist Realism. The ICAICâ€™s members
debated the nature of revolutionary art, and filmmakers
were open to influences from many sources. The feature
films of the early years often bore the stamp of Neorealism. Espinosa and Alea had studied at Italyâ€™s Centro
Sperimentale, and Aleaâ€™s Stories of the Revolution (1960)
borrowed its episode structure from Roberto Rosselliniâ€™s
Paisan. The Neorealist scriptwriter Cesare Zavattini
contributed to the script of Espinosaâ€™s The Young Rebel
The major works of Cubaâ€™s revolutionary cinema
emerged in the crucial years from 1966 to 1971. During
that time, the drive to build Cubaâ€™s economy led Castro to
promote central planning and call on the populace for
enormous moral and physical sacrifices. As part of this
campaign, Cubans celebrated 1968 as the culmination of
the â€œHundred Years of Struggleâ€ that began with Cubaâ€™s
first efforts to throw off Spanish colonization. After
Havanaâ€™s 1966 Tricontinental Solidarity Conference,
Cuba also took the lead in fostering anticolonial revolution, with Che calling for â€œtwo, three, many Vietnams.â€
Filmmakers began to go beyond the Neorealist model
and adopt strategies of cinematic modernism. The Cuban
directors knew the works of Michelangelo Antonioni,
Ingmar Bergman, Alain Resnais, and the Nouvelle Vague
allegiance toward the USSR, a policy intensified by a US
embargo. After the fiasco of the US-sponsored invasion at
the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and the missile crisis of 1962,
Cuba became a Soviet satellite.
While the USSR provided the country with exports
and financial aid, Fidelâ€™s comrade-in-arms Che Guevara
favored assisting revolts throughout South America. For
much of the Third World, Cuba came to symbolize antiimperialist revolution. The vibrancy of Cuban literature
and music attracted worldwide attention and formed a
central cultural influence on other Latin American
The first act of Castroâ€™s government in the artistic
sphere was the 1959 creation of the Instituto Cubano del
Arte e Industria CinematogrÃ¡ficos (ICAIC, â€œCuban
Institute of Film Art and Industryâ€). Headed by Alfredo
Guevara, the ICAIC became a center of the new Cuban
film culture. In 1960, it founded a film archive and a film
journal, Cine cubano. By 1965, the ICAIC ran all production, distribution, and exhibition in the country. It trained
all personnel and oversaw import and export. In a gesture
reminiscent of Soviet and Chinese mobile projection
units, the ICAIC established cine moviles, trucks that
visited remote areas to hold screenings.
The ICAIC also produced a great many films. Under
earlier governments, filmmaking had been a cheap, smallscale affair, consisting almost wholly of routine genre pictures and pornography. The ICAIC had to create a
production base. Thanks to government subsidies and
extensive support by foreign talent, large-scale filmmaking
began in 1960. By the early 1970s, the new government
had turned out 500 newsreels, 300 documentary shorts,
and over 50 features. Since the relatively prosperous
Cubans were devoted moviegoers, the ICAIC could
recoup production costs in the home market. In addition,
many of the new Cuban films were ripe for export to
Europe and the USSR.
Because Cuba had too few trustworthy prerevolutionary directors, the ICAIC had to assign films to
untried talents. Former cinÃ©-club members Julio Garcia
Espinosa and TomÃ¡s GutiÃ©rrez Alea had made only experimental shorts before the revolution. Humberto SolÃ¡s
directed his first feature, the epic LucÃa (1968), when he
was only twenty-six. The young directors of the ICAIC
became Cubaâ€™s equivalent of Europeâ€™s young cinemas or
Brazilâ€™s Cinema NÃ´vo.
In the early 1960s, the ICAIC concentrated on documentary shorts, which not only offered good training
grounds for beginning talent but also answered the need
for promulgating government policies. The outstanding
exponent of the new Cuban documentary was Santiago
23.6 In Hanoi,
Tuesday the 13th,
Lady Bird, . . .
23.7 . . . seem
to be laughing
at a suffering
Tuesday the 13th).
Political Filmmaking in the Third World 489
directors. They cited other films in an affectionate or critical spirit. They also drew on characteristic art-cinema
techniques: abrupt flashbacks and flash-forwards, fantasy
sequences, handheld camerawork, elliptical editing, and
the mixing of staged footage, documentary, and animation
into a cinematic collage.
Yet the Cuban directors did not simply mimic the
European art cinema. As with the Cinema NÃ´vo directors, circumstances and commitments drove them to
explore a politicized modernism. This ran parallel to
efforts in capitalist countries. In Cuba, however, the
directors consistently modified modernist techniques
to make them accessible to wide audiences. The ICAIC
welcomed experimentation that demystified the filmmaking process. Alfredo Guevara urged filmmakers â€œto
reveal all the tricks, all the resources of language; to
dismantle all the mechanisms of cinematic hypnosis.â€6
Because Cuban filmmakers tended to use familiar
genres, they made film form less ambiguous or obscure
than did the most experimental Brazilian and European
Aleaâ€™s Death of a Bureaucrat (1966), for instance,
updates that perennial socialist genre, the satire on bureaucracy. Animation, newsreels, and still photos interrupt the
action with bits of grotesque comedy that recall DuÅ¡an
Makavejev (23.8). The film rushes through affectionate
homages to Federico Fellini, Luis BuÃ±uel, and Hollywood
Also comic in tone is Espinosaâ€™s Adventures of Juan
Quin Quin (1967), a parody of Hollywood Westerns
centering on a young revolutionary. Other films, notably Memories of Underdevelopment and LucÃa, offered
more serious models of critically assimilating other traditions (see box). Another important attempt to create
an accessible political modernism was Manuel Octavio
Gomezâ€™s First Charge of the Machete (1969). One of
several historical films celebrating the Hundred Years
of Struggle, First Charge recreates an 1869 revolt, when
the machete became a weapon of the oppressed sugarcane cutters. Gomez made the film as if it were a 1969
news report, complete with to-camera interviews, direct
sound, handheld shooting, and high-contrast film stock
(23.10). The most innovative Cuban filmmakers
recognized the need for what Espinosa in 1969 called
â€œimperfect cinemaâ€â€”popular, addressed at problems,
and helping to make the viewers into â€œco-creatorsâ€ of
While winning large audiences, Cuban directors followed the Soviet filmmakers of the 1920s in adapting
modernist techniques to the need of a propagandistic cinema. The debt to the Soviet tradition is explicitly noted in
23.8 An animated arrow identifies the dead uncle as a loyal
Cuban, faithfully listening to a Castro speech (Death of a
23.9 A tit-for-tat fight between bureaucrats in a cemetery
evokes Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (Death of a Bureaucrat).
23.10 Like many Cuban films, First Charge of the Machete
uses Direct Cinema technique to present staged events with an
Gomezâ€™s Days of Water (1971). Insurgent peasants fire in
the countryside and hit people in the city (an echo of the
impossible geography of Montage films). In a climax that
490 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
TWO REVOLUTIONARY FILMS: MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT AND LUCÃA
In the fall of 1968, there premiered two films that exemplified the diversity of the Cuban postrevolutionary cinema.
Both became paradigms of political filmmaking within
Memories of Underdevelopment, directed by TomÃ¡s
GutiÃ©rrez Alea, portrays an intellectual uncertain about his
allegiance to the revolution. Sergioâ€™s contempt for those
who leave Cuba for the United States is counterbalanced
by his self-centered lifestyle and his unwillingness to build
the new society.
Alea uses art-cinema techniques already associated
with the â€œalienated bourgeoisâ€ in European cinema to characterize a man out of synchronization with the revolution.
Abrupt flashbacks, fantasy scenes, and a continuous inner
monologue expose Sergioâ€™s creative paralysis and unfulfilled
sexual desires (23.11). Somewhat in the manner of Antonioni,
Alea follows Sergio on aimless walks through the city. There
is even a reflexive scene in which Alea tells Sergio of his new
film, â€œa collage that will have a bit of everythingâ€â€”referring to
Memories of Underdevelopment itself.
While utilizing the techniques of cinematic modernism, the film is far less obscure and ambiguous than its
European counterparts. Momentary uncertainties are
quickly resolved by the verbal commentary or the narrative situation. The inner monologue gives thematic significance to the long-held telephoto image in which Sergioâ€™s
face disintegrates (23.12).
Aleaâ€™s collage of fiction and documentary enables him
to exploit principles of Eisensteinâ€™s intellectual montage
(p. 113). In context, the juxtapositions also reflect Sergioâ€™s bitter, paralyzed consciousness. At the filmâ€™s climax, as the
Cuban missile crisis unfolds, Alea cuts between Sergio in his
penthouse and newsreels of Havanaâ€™s mobilization (23.13).
The filmâ€™s final images of crashing waves cites the beginning
of Potemkin; over shots of the breakers we hear Cuban
tanks rumbling into battle.
LucÃa, directed by Humberto SolÃ¡s, also confronts its
main characters with political crises. The film celebrates
the Hundred Years of Struggle through three episodes
from Cuban history, each centering upon a woman named
LucÃa. â€œLucÃa 1895â€ shows a woman wooed by a Spanish
secret agent; he uses her love to gain knowledge of her
brotherâ€™s rebel band. In â€œLucÃa 1933,â€ a woman and her
revolutionary lover watch his party descend into corruption. â€œLucÃa 196â€“â€ is a comedy in which a vibrant woman
learns to resist her tyrannical husband.
Solas was infatuated with Alain Resnais and
Michelangelo Antonioni during his youth, and each episode
23.11 Sergio, the emasculated intellectual, pulls his wifeâ€™s
stocking over his face and stares at his lipstick-smeared
reflection (Memories of Underdevelopment).
23.12 As Sergio walks to the camera, his features dissolve into
a grainy blur; his voice intones: â€œYouâ€™re alone. . . . Youâ€™re nothing,
youâ€™re deadâ€ (Memories of Underdevelopment).
23.13 The sound of Sergio flicking his lighter eerily evokes his
isolation when heard under the shots of tanks and a populace
determined to resist invasion (Memories of Underdevelopment).
Political Filmmaking in the Third World 491
of LucÃa explores different trends within cinematic modernism. â€œLucÃa 1895â€ oscillates between dazzlingly overexposed images, associated with the comfortable bourgeois
life, and scorched, high-contrast images of the SpanishAmerican War and of LucÃaâ€™s imagination (23.14). In a pastiche of Luchino Viscontiâ€™s Senso, LucÃaâ€™s love for Rafael is
rendered operatic by soaring romantic music and the coupleâ€™s histrionic poses (23.15).
â€œLucÃa 1933â€ yields an understated lyricism reminiscent
of FranÃ§ois Truffaut. Soft lighting, abbreviated scenes, and
sudden shifts of mood evoke 1960s French cinema (23.16,
23.17). â€œLucÃa 196â€“â€ portrays contemporary Cuban society by
means of a third stylistic approach. Now the staging is loose
and naturalistic (23.18). Direct Cinema observational tactics
recall Milos Forman and other Czech directors, as does the
dry comedy when under Tomasâ€™s jealous, but sleepy, eye a
teacher helps LucÃa learn to read. The folkish pop tune
â€œGuantanameraâ€ becomes a recurring musical commentary.
Such technical virtuosity enabled Alea and SolÃ¡s to
compare political processes across a variety of epochs,
23.14 A nun blesses the warâ€™s victims in a high-contrast
subjective image from LucÃa.
23.17 After Aldo has been killed, LucÃaâ€™s gaze at the camera
irresistibly recalls the finale of The 400 Blows (see 20.13) (LucÃa).
23.15 LucÃa: operatic emotions of the bourgeoisie.
23.16 LucÃa: a muted romantic scene, reminiscent of Antonioni.
23.18 Tomas confronts LucÃa after she has disobeyed him and
returned to work (LucÃa).
moods, and styles. Memories of Underdevelopment and
LucÃa convinced critics that cinema from the Third World
could fuse artistic ambitions with political engagement.
492 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
young Buenos Aires middle class much in the manner of
Claude Chabrol or Louis Malle. And, in the late 1960s,
Argentina was the scene of one of the most influential
movements within militant filmmaking.
After the fall of the nationalist President Juan PerÃ³n,
a series of regimes tried to eliminate his support among
the people. A 1966 military coup shut down the Argentine
legislature, disbanded political parties, and suppressed the
labor movement. The regime tried to impose a distribution quota on US films but gave in to pressure from the
Motion Picture Export Association of America
(MPEAA). Most commercial filmmakers turned out sanctioned works, based on folklore or official versions of
At the same time, the left, the middle class, student
groups, and Peronists worked to unseat the military government. A parallel political cinema was exemplified in
Jorge CedrÃ³nâ€™s OperaciÃ³n masacre (â€œOperation Massacre,â€
1969), which revealed the governmentâ€™s attempt to murder key Peronists. The most influential political films
came from the Cine LiberaciÃ³n group. Founded by the
left-wing Peronists Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino,
Cine LiberaciÃ³n played a central role in defining political
cinema in Latin America.
Solanas and Getinoâ€™s major film was La Hora de los
hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces, 1968). This four-hour
work blended Direct Cinema, staged scenes, and a dense
sound track to create a film tract of a complexity akin to
the work of Dziga Vertov and Chris Marker. Its three parts
aimed to provoke argument and action. â€œNeocolonialism
and Violence,â€ dedicated to Che Guevara, shows Argentina exploited by Europe, the United States, and ruling
elites. The second part, â€œAn Act for Liberation,â€ dissects
the failures of Peronism. The third part, â€œViolence and
Liberation,â€ centers on interviews with activists discussing
prospects for change.
The Hour of the Furnaces bombards the spectator
with a collage of images and sounds, always to agitational ends. Images collide: founders of the country and
contemporary middle-class golfers, a massacre of mountain people and a contemporary disco. The â€œmyth of a
universal cultureâ€ is mocked by cutting from an academic
painting to a man dragged off by police (23.20, 23.21).
The sound track intensifies the disjunctions. When contemporary pop music is heard while the camera tracks
through museums, the film suggests the coopting of
intellectuals by the mass media.
Reaching out directly to its audience, The Hour of the
Furnaces was circulated among workersâ€™ groups and shown
in secret meetings. Although Solanas and Getino took a
recasts Potemkinâ€™s Odessa Steps massacre, stylized bourgeois figures are slain on a staircase (23.19).
Between 1972 and 1975, however, Cuban directors
retreated from experimentation. Problems with the
nationâ€™s economy led to a cut in film production.
SolÃ¡sâ€™s A Day in November (1972) was never released.
Acrimonious national debates about writersâ€™ loyalty
made artists cautious, and the ICAIC intensified the
emphasis on popular forms. Filmmakers began to borrow Hollywood genresâ€”the police thriller in The Strange
Case of Rachel K and the Western in The Man from
MaisinicÃº (both 1973). Several directorsâ€™ first features
broached fresh issues within accessible formats. Sergio
Giralâ€™s The Other Francisco (1974) adapted a classic
novel but interrogated the authorâ€™s attitude toward slavery. In De cierta manera (One Way or Another, 1974),
Sara Gomezâ€™s criticism of Cuban machismo sparked a
By the mid-1970s, Cuban cinema commanded respect
around the world. While Brazilâ€™s Cinema NÃ´vo films succeeded chiefly with elite viewers, the Cubans demonstrated that Third World cinema could blend modernist
conventions with narrative forms to which mass audiences
had become accustomed.
Argentina: Third Cinemaâ€ƒDuring the 1950s, the Argentine documentarist Fernando BirrÃ had created a critical
and realistic â€œcinema of discoveryâ€ that inspired many
among South American filmmakers (p. 369). Argentina
had also pioneered a Latin American art cinema in the
works of Leopoldo Torre Nilsson (p. 370). During the
early 1960s, the country had its own mild Nueva Ola, or
New Wave, consisting of filmmakers who presented the
23.19 Days of Water invokes and updates Potemkin: a
handheld camera records the peopleâ€™s massacre of the
bourgeoisie on a flight of steps.
Political Filmmaking in the Third World 493
founded a magazine, Cine y liberaciÃ³n. Getino directed El
Familiar (1972), an allegorical fiction feature on the destiny of Latin America. Other filmmakers continued to
make Peronist films, and ultra-left groups such as Cine de
By 1973, the military authorities could not contain
the upheaval or cure the nationâ€™s economic woes. PerÃ³n
returned as president. The Cine LiberaciÃ³n leaders began
working for his regime. Solanas headed an independent
filmmaking association, while Getino ran the national
censorship board. He readmitted all banned films, liberalized censorship, and offered financing to exhibitors and
film unions. A new film law was drafted that would
increase government support to the industry. Cine de Base
remained underground, making films that denounced Peronism as Fascism.
PerÃ³n soon confirmed such suspicions by cracking
down on the left. He died in 1974, and his wife Isabel succeeded him. She could not check the countryâ€™s inflation
or the guerrilla war that blazed between left and right. In
the chaos, all reform of the cinema was forgotten. The
Cine LiberaciÃ³n directors fled, Getino to Peru, Solanas to
Paris. Both continued to work in exile.
In 1976, the military seized power and launched a
brutal assault on the opposition. Over the years, as many
as 20,000 people disappeared, most killed by death
squads. Film production virtually halted. The Sono Film
studio closed in 1977, and Torre Nilsson died in exile a
year later. Not until the mid-1980s would Argentine cinema reemerge from the shadows of the generals.
New Chilean Cinemaâ€ƒPolitical cinema in Chile followed
a pattern similar to that enacted in Brazil and Argentina. In
the 1960s, an energetic critical cinema emerged in a hostile
political environment. It became aligned with a liberal government before being cast out by a coup and a repressive
military regime in the 1970s.
Peronist line, they wanted the film to be interrupted by
discussions among the audience. At one point, the film
halts: â€œNow it is up to you to draw conclusions, to continue the film. You have the floor.â€
Out of the experience of making and screening The
Hour of the Furnaces came several Cine LiberaciÃ³n manifestos defining a â€œThird Cinema.â€ Solanas and Getino
equated First Cinema with the Hollywood movie, which
overwhelmed its viewer with spectacle and made each
viewer a consumer of bourgeois ideology. Second Cinema was auteur-centered art cinema. In fostering individual expression, Second Cinema was a step forward,
particularly in Cinema NÃ´vo works; but its time was
now past. Third Cinema used film as a weapon for liberation, making every participant a â€œfilm-guerrilla.â€ The
director was part of a collective, not only a production
cadre but a mass movement working on behalf of the
In line with the formal innovations of The Hour of the
Furnaces, Solanas and Getino called for Third Cinema to
break with individual protagonists and orthodox narrative.
The conditions of viewing would also have to be transformed. Solanas and Getino urged filmmakers to create
secret distribution circuits among insurgent groups: if a
screening is clandestine, the viewer takes a risk simply in
coming and becomes a â€œparticipant-comrade,â€ ready to
think and debate.
The Cine LiberaciÃ³n articles remained vague in ideology. They spoke the language of populist rebellion rather
than of Cuban-style revolution. Still, â€œTowards a Third
Cinemaâ€ became as important as Espinosaâ€™s â€œImperfect
Cinemaâ€ essay in formulating the aspirations of radical
film in the underdeveloped countries.
During the early 1970s, Argentina came apart. Government repression was met by insurrections and terrorism. Solanas and Getino contributed by filming two
documentary interviews with the exiled PerÃ³n. They also
23.20, 23.21 Through the similarity
of the figuresâ€™ outstretched arms, the
other-worldliness of art is confronted by
the reality of political violence (The
Hour of the Furnaces).
494 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
projected The Jackal of Nahueltoro in political meetings
and union halls (23.23). In 1970, Allende won a narrow
victory at the polls. He moved toward socializing the
economy, nationalizing copper and other key industries.
Immediately, the United States led an effort to undermine his government, creating an â€œinvisible blockadeâ€
against Chile. At the same time, Allende faced criticism
from the radical wing of his party, who wanted reforms
to move faster.
After Allendeâ€™s triumph, Miguel LittÃn, among the
most militant of the young filmmakers, composed a
manifesto recalling Espinosaâ€™s imperfect cinema and
the Solanas-Getino idea of Third Cinema. â€œThe people
are the generators of action and finally the true creators; the filmmaker is their instrument of communication.â€7 LittÃn became head of Chile Films, a government
agency that produced several documentary films. He
hoped to create an exhibition network that would add
discussions to screenings in the manner urged by Cine
LittÃn stayed with Chile Films less than a year. At
this time, the film industry faced growing economic
problems. As part of the US boycott of Allendeâ€™s government, the MPEAA companies ceased shipping prints
and demanded advance payment for rentals. Soon, Chilean audiences, among the most movie-addicted on the
continent, had a choice among only European and Soviet
Under Allende, the New Cinema directors offered
more radical films. Helvio Sotoâ€™s Voto + Fusil (The Vote
and the Gun, 1970) presents three generations of the
Chilean film culture grew during the 1960s, when the
University of Chile organized a national film archive and a
department of experimental cinema. Joris Ivens visited to
teach. A film festival was founded at ViÃ±a del Mar in
1962, and in 1967 this event hosted the first continental
meeting of Latin American filmmakers. Artists in other
media, spearheaded by the Communist poet Pablo
Neruda, began to agitate for social change.
Chilean film production was minuscule until 1967,
when the moderate government of Eduardo Frei began to
offer some support to the industry. Young directors
quickly came forward. RaÃºl Ruizâ€™s Tres tristes tigres (Three
Sad Tigers, 1968) presents a casually bizarre view of
middle-class intellectuals drifting through bars, indifferent
to politics. Aldo Franciaâ€™s Valparaiso mi amor (â€œValparaiso My Love,â€ 1969) traces the history of a teenage girl
whom poverty drives to prostitution. Miguel LittÃnâ€™s El
Chacal de Nahueltoro (The Jackal of Nahueltoro, 1969)
investigates a murdererâ€™s life, discovering the causes of his
crime in his social milieu.
The Chileansâ€™ political situation was similar to that
faced by the Argentine Cine LiberaciÃ³n, but their films are
closer to Cuban work in their mixture of popular fiction
and art-cinema techniques. The flashbacks of The Jackal
of Nahueltoro recall European art cinema. Valparaiso mi
amor relies on a straightforward realism, but Tres tristes
tigres uses surrealist images to undercut the conventions of
kitsch melodrama (23.22).
Most of these directors aligned themselves with the
Marxist Salvador Allende and his Popular Unity party.
As with The Hour of the Furnaces, political groups
23.22 A mysterious cutaway to a barroom full of bottles in
Ruizâ€™s Tres tristes tigres.
23.23 The execution scene of The Jackal of Nahueltoro:
based on a real-life case, the film was used in campaigns against
the president, who refused to pardon the killer.
Political Filmmaking in the Third World 495
revolution. Indeed, Cuba was showing signs of the authoritarian rule characteristic of Soviet satellites.
As repressive regimes came to power, filmmakers emigrated to Europe, Mexico, and Cuba. Glauber Rocha shot
Der Leone Have Sept CabeÃ§as (The Lion Has Seven Heads,
1970) in the Peopleâ€™s Republic of the Congo; he described
the film as â€œa communiquÃ© on the cinema of the 1960s,â€ a
dialogue with Eisenstein, Bertolt Brecht, and Godard.8
Ruy Guerra returned to his native Mozambique, assisting
its Marxist government by building a film institute and
Other exiles worked in relative proximity to their targets, serving as guerrilla provocateurs in Solanas and
Getinoâ€™s sense. The most famous example was the Bolivian Jorge SanjinÃ©s. In the early 1960s, SanjinÃ©s created a
film school and cinÃ©-club while making some short agitational films. With friends he made several features, the
outstanding one being Blood of the Condor (1969). The
film attacked the American Peace Corps and its policies
forcing birth control onto Indian communities. The premiere triggered a street demonstration, and the film
played a large role in banning the Peace Corps from
A 1971 Fascist coup drove SanjinÃ©s into exile, where
he completed The Courage of the People (1971). Mixing
documentary photographs, survivorsâ€™ testimony, and
staged sequences, the film exposes the 1967 massacre of
striking miners by the Bolivian government. Now barred
from returning to Bolivia, SanjinÃ©s and his Ukamau Group
set The Principal Enemy (1971) in Peru. The film depicts
the problems of guerrilla warfare in the era of Che
Guevaraâ€™s mobilization of regional peasants. Get Out of
Here! (1976) treats missionaries among Ecuadorâ€™s tribal
communities as carriers of US imperialism.
While Blood of the Condor resembles other militant
filmmaking of its period, SanjinÃ©sâ€™s exile films created a
more novel aesthetic. Encouraging nonactors to reenact
Chilean left reuniting at dinner and rethinking their positions. Franciaâ€™s Itâ€™s No Longer Enough to Pray (1971) urges
Latin American Catholics to engage in political activism.
Ruiz made several films, many taking a wry attitude to
official politics; his The Penal Colony (1971) conveys the
invasiveness of a police state (23.24, 23.25).
Despite a barrage of economic difficulties, CIA
attempts to subvert the government, and growing violence
between right and left, Allende was reelected in March
1973. But soon, in the most violent coup in twentiethcentury Latin America, the military seized power. Thousands of Chileans perished. Allende died when the army
bombarded the presidential palace.
General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte took command
and proclaimed a state of siege. He dissolved the constitution, disbanded the congress, and outlawed political parties. The military destroyed film schools and production
centers, burning film and smashing equipment. Workers
at Chile Films were fired or arrested.
Most of the young Chilean filmmakers fled. Soto
went to Spain. In Cuba, Patricio GuzmÃ¡n completed The
Battle of Chile (1973â€“1979), a documentary on the
Allende years. In Paris, LittÃn finished The Promised Land
(1973), a symbolic account of an earlier coup. Ruiz settled
in Paris as well, rapidly turning out dry, quirky films such
as Dialogue of Exiles (1974). LittÃn went on to Cuba and
Mexico, producing historical epics celebrating the resistance of Latin American peoples. In all, Chilean filmmakers produced dozens of works outside their native land.
But their exile proved a long one. Pinochetâ€™s dictatorship
lasted sixteen years.
Working in Exileâ€ƒThroughout Latin America, the revolutionary ferment of the 1960s waned during the next
decade. In 1960, most governments had been moderately
democratic, but, by 1973, dictators ruled most countries.
No other nation followed Cubaâ€™s lead in creating a
23.24, leftâ€ƒIn The Penal Colony, an
interview presumably free of police
surveillance . . .
23.25, rightâ€ƒ. . . suddenly reveals
an observing officer in the next shot
(The Penal Colony).
496 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
countries had produced at least one feature-length film. In
a region that suffered two protracted wars, forty coups and
revolts, and several devastating droughts and famines, it is
remarkable that even this many films appeared.
Still, most countries lacked the finances, equipment, and infrastructure to found a film industry.
Regional distribution was controlled by European and
American interests, which dumped cheap films on the
market. Pictures from Egypt, India, and Hong Kong
dominated theaters. Moreover, individual countriesâ€™
audiences were usually too small to support a national
industry of any note.
African filmmakers therefore sought cooperation. A
biennial festival was established in Carthage, Tunisia, in
1966, and another, FESPACO, in Burkina Faso. A continental association, the FÃ©dÃ©ration Panafricaine des
CinÃ©astes (FEPACI) was established in 1970 to facilitate
exchange of information and to help lobby governments to
Senegal, Ivory Coast, and other French-speaking
nations were the earliest and strongest sources of black
African cinema. These were among the most industrially
developed nations, and film production benefited from
contributions from the French Ministry of Cooperation.
From 1963 to 1980, the ministry offered both financing
and production facilities, eventually assisting more than a
hundred films. Yet the films circulated only to cultural
centers, not commercial theaters, so most were not seen
by the broad population.
The first generation of indigenous African filmmakers included Paulin Vieyra and the novelist Ousmane
Sembene (both from Senegal), Med Hondo (Mauritania),
DesirÃ© EcarÃ© (Ivory Coast), and Oumarou Ganda
(Niger). Their contemporary Sarah Maldoror (from
Guadeloupe) worked in various African countries. Many
were leftist artists: Sembene was a Communist who
learned filmmaking in Moscow; Maldoror, also trained
in Moscow, was the wife of an Angolan revolutionary
Several directors began with short films portraying
exile life. Vieyraâ€™s Afrique sur Seine (â€œAfrica on the Seine,â€
1955), made while he was at the French film school
IDHEC, displays the influence of Italian Neorealism in its
portrayal of the daily life of African students in Paris.
Sembeneâ€™s La Noire de . . . (Black Girl, 1966) shows the
misery of a woman brought to France to serve as a kitchen
maid. EcarÃ©â€™s Concerto pour un exil (â€œConcerto for an
Exile,â€ 1967) and Ã€ nous deux, France (â€œLetâ€™s Go, France!â€
1970) are satirical studies of assimilated Africans who
mimic French ways (23.27).
their own experiences, he treated films as collective
effortsâ€”an idea in line with Third Cinema and imperfectcinema manifestos. Refusing to structure the plot around
individuals, the Ukamau Group created a mass hero reminiscent of 1920s Soviet filmmaking. But they employed
long shots and long takes rather than montage; as SanjinÃ©s
Jumping right away to close-ups of the assassinâ€”in The
Principal Enemyâ€”in the crowded plaza where the popular
tribunal was held didnâ€™t serve our purposes, because the
surprise that is always produced by directly cutting to a
close-up was opposed to what we were trying to develop in
the sequence shots, which was to engage the participation
of the viewer by means of the internal power of the peopleâ€™s
The plan-sÃ©quence was utilized in the postwar European cinema to capture the moment-by-moment flow of
psychological states (p. 395), but here it signifies an
oppressed groupâ€™s solidarity (23.26). Guided by political
commitment and formal exploration, the guerrilla cinema
of exile practiced by SanjinÃ©s and the Ukamau Group continued the traditions of Latin American revolutionary cinema into the 1970s.
Black African Cinema
During the mid-1970s, militant filmmaking waned in
Latin America, but in Africa it began to come into its
own. Black African colonies won independence in
the early 1960s. A decade later, most of the major
23.26 The long take of the peopleâ€™s tribunal in The Principal
Political Filmmaking in the Third World 497
The most famous film of the return-to-the-sources tendency is Sembeneâ€™s Ceddo (â€œOutsider,â€ 1977). The film
shows the clash among Islam, Christianity, and indigenous tribal traditions. Stately in its unfolding of the kidnapping of a princess, the film occasionally cuts ahead to
Senegal in the future (23.30).
Ceddo is characteristic of African cinema in another
way. Believing that oral storytelling is an important part of
African culture, many directors have sought to transpose
its subjects, plots, and techniques into cinematic terms.
Sembene, for example, self-consciously adopts the role of
a griot, the traditional storyteller.
Often the worker and the peasant donâ€™t have the time to
pause on the details of their lives: they live them and do not
have the time to tie them down. The filmmaker, though,
can link one detail to another to put a story together. There
is no longer a traditional story-teller in our days, and I think
the filmmaker can replace him.10
Directors also turned to neocolonialism as a subject. Sembeneâ€™s Borom Sarret (1963), often considered
the first indigenous black African film, is a poignant
study of a day in the life of a cart driver in Dakar. In
quasi-documentary fashion, using voice-over inner
monologue, Sembene shows that independence has not
lessened Africaâ€™s poverty and suffering. Mandabi (The
Money Order, 1968) is a rough comedy about cultural
transition, while Xala (â€œThe Curse of Impotence,â€
1974) turns a BuÃ±uelian ferocity on neocolonialist
elites who exploit the masses whom they are supposed
to represent (23.28).
Critiques of colonial regimes also formed a basis of
African films. Sembeneâ€™s Emitai (â€œGod of Thunder,â€
1972) portrays the clash of French soldiers with a local
tribe in World War II. The anticolonial insurrection in
Angola was dramatized in Maldororâ€™s Sambizanga
(1972), which depicts the imprisonment of a revolutionary leader and the struggle of his wife to free him
(23.29). Once Angolaâ€™s Marxist faction won sovereignty
in 1975, it produced films recalling the war and summoning people to support the new regime. Other African
nations that adopted socialist governments, such as
Mozambique and Ethiopia, made films denouncing their
In the 1970s, African filmmakers also sought to
return to the sources of their cultures. As elsewhere in the
Third World, indigenous cultures had long been concealed
or distorted by Western images. Sebastien Kambaâ€™s La
RanÃ§on dâ€™une alliance (â€œThe Price of a Union,â€ Congo,
1973) traces the effects of clan rivalry before the arrival of
the Europeans. Haile Gerimaâ€™s Harvest: 3,000 Years (Ethiopia, 1975) portrays peasantsâ€™ attempts to overturn a feudal land system.
23.27 Assimilated Africans dance,
apparently oblivious to their compatriotsâ€™
living conditions, in Ã€ nous deux, France.
23.28 In Xala, the briefcase-carrying
businessman pleads with a marabout, or
â€œmagic healer,â€ to restore his potency.
23.29 Sambizanga: the protagonistâ€™s
husband is seized by the police. Like
many Third World filmmakers, Maldoror
uses long lenses and a handheld camera
in order to suggest a documentary record.
23.30 In Ceddo, a contemporary Catholic ceremony
interrupts the seventeenth-century story and reveals the
bishopâ€™s crosier to be a sampa, or tribal scepter.
498 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
African film is different from a Western film. . . . Itâ€™s a
matter of another mode of breathing, of another manner
of telling a story. We Africans live with time, while the
Westerners are always running along behind it.â€11 Aware
of European and American film traditions but determined to represent central aspects of their own cultures,
Hondo and his contemporaries sustained a distinctively
African approach to political filmmaking throughout
China: Cinema and the Cultural Revolution
The â€œrevolutionary cinemaâ€ of the Peopleâ€™s Republic of
China (PRC) differed sharply from that found elsewhere
in the Third World. As in Cuba, a Communist government
controlled filmmaking. But, whereas the ICAIC encouraged experimentation, China opted for a narrow, dogmatic
conception of revolutionary cinema.
After the 1949 revolution, PRC filmmaking had, like
postwar Soviet filmmaking, swung between periods of
strict government control and of liberalization (see
Chapter 18). During the early 1960s, filmmakers had considerable latitude, but in 1966, a bizarre shift in policy
brought an unparalleled period of repression.
Although Mao Zedong remained the venerated leader
of the revolution and chairman of the Communist party,
he had become marginal to policymaking. The chairman
of the PRC, Liu Shaoqui, and the partyâ€™s secretary-general,
Sembeneâ€™s use of types (the pauper, the trickster) and certain subjects (magic, abrupt shifts of fortune) harks back
to folktale conventions. In Ceddo, the legendary quality of
the plot and the presence of a commenting griot further
signal that the film is to be taken as a contemporary revision of oral tradition.
Related to Sembeneâ€™s griot conception is the freedom of commentary in his sound track. His own voice
dominates Borom Sarret, speaking to the audience
directly of the characterâ€™s hopes and disillusionment.
Black Girl has a remarkable scene in which the illiterate
servant has received a letter from her mother. Her French
employers, concerned about propriety, begin to write a
responding letter for her. We see the husband write a
banal letter and hear her protesting inner monologue
(23.31). Playing between French and the Wolof language,
Sembeneâ€™s films accentuate the clash of modernity and
Sembeneâ€™s style remained closer to mainstream realism than did that of other African filmmakers. Djibril
Diop MambÃ©tyâ€™s Touki-Bouki (Senegal, 1973), the most
avant-garde film made on the continent during the period,
alludes to African folktales while drawing on techniques
of European modernist cinema (23.32). Similarly experimental was Med Hondo, who made most of his films
while in exile in Paris. He began in a surreal vein close to
Rocha with Soleil O (â€œO Sun,â€ 1970), which portrays an
unemployed African possessed by a vision of a guerrilla
revolution sweeping through Asia, Africa, and Latin
America. Les Bicots-nÃ©gres, vos voisins (â€œThe Dirty
Negroes, Your Neighbors,â€ 1973) reveals the conditions
of African workers in France. Both films use collage techniques parallel to those of political modernist films elsewhere, mixing documentary, realistic fiction, animation,
photomontages, and direct address (23.33).
Hondo was one of the strongest advocates of an
African version of Third Cinema. He demanded that
film reflect popular political struggles and that it convey
cultural differences. â€œThe physical time of an Arab or
23.31, leftâ€ƒLa Noire de . . .: colonial
clichÃ©s challenged by the black servantâ€™s
23.32, rightâ€ƒThe sexual activities of the
heroine of Touki-Bouki are juxtaposed to
the throbbing movements of the ocean.
voisins, a narrator
Westerns to the
Political Filmmaking in the Third World 499
Her first step was to close down the film industry.
For the only time in cinema history, a government simply
withdrew feature films from audiences. All foreign films
and pre-1966 Chinese films were banned, and no new Chinese features were released between 1966 and 1969. The
public still went to the movies, but they saw only newsreels, mostly records of Mao reviewing troops or riding in
Jiang and her associates sought an ideologically
acceptable approach to fiction filmmaking. They settled
on a genre called the revolutionary model performance
film. Such films were versions of stage works that blended
modernized Peking opera (one of Maoâ€™s favorite art
forms), somewhat traditional ballet, and revolutionary
military subjects. These were the only types of films made
from 1970 to 1972, and only seven of them were released.
The revolutionary model performance films were
screened incessantly. Deprived of all other entertainment,
audiences saw them over and over; to avoid attending
rendered oneâ€™s commitment to Maoism suspect.
The most famous of these performance films is The
Red Detachment of Women (1971, Pan Wenzhan and Fu
Jie). It is a record of a 1964 ballet, which was in turn an
adaptation of Xie Jinâ€™s 1961 film (p. 364). The ballet,
with a score by a collective of composers, told of an
actual detachment of female soldiers in the Chinese civil
war of the 1930s. The lack of dialogue and the simple
action made the story easy for peasant audiences to follow. The characters of The Red Detachment of Women
represent types familiar from Soviet and Chinese Communist fiction: the sadistic landlord, the good Party
leader, the vengeful heroine who must learn Communist
discipline. Eliminating psychological development, the
plot concentrates on the detachmentâ€™s training for the
climactic battle. The dancers wear traditional ballet slippers and go up on point, yet they also flourish rifles and
strike aggressive poses (23.34). Chinese filmmakers
Deng Xiaoping, held the real power. They undertook
reforms, allowing some private enterprise for farmers, giving bonuses to productive workers, and requiring examinations for university admission. Mao, who favored complete
equality and no hint of capitalist enterprise, sought to
regain control. He decided to exploit the â€œcult of Maoâ€ in
order to destroy the party hierarchy and rebuild it with
In 1966, Mao declared the â€œGreat Proletarian Cultural Revolution,â€ a sweeping program that dominated
Chinese society for the next decade. With the help of the
Peopleâ€™s Liberation Army (PLA), he purged many of his
enemies and seized the national newspaper. Soon he
controlled Beijing, but strong resistance sprang up elsewhere. Mao then called on high school and university
students to form a youth army, the Red Guard. Their
task was to attack and humiliate intellectuals, artists,
bureaucrats, teachers, and any other proponents of
The Red Guard soon closed schools and universities.
Students burned libraries and rampaged through museums. Red Guards roamed the country, identifying â€œenemiesâ€ and forcing them to submit to â€œself-criticismâ€ before
a large crowd. Some victims were tortured or executed;
others committed suicide or died in prison.
Maoâ€™s thought underpinned all debates. Bookstores
carried little but his writings. Excerpts were published as
Quotations from Chairman Mao, a â€œlittle red bookâ€ printed
in over a billion copies and waved zealously by Red
Guards as they carried out his policies.
Mao considered untutored peasants to be the ideal
revolutionary citizens. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of city dwellers were sent to farms to perform manual labor and live in primitive dormitories. After this
process of â€œreeducation,â€ citizens were supposed to return
home, although many died in the countryside.
By the late 1960s, the party consisted almost entirely
of Maoists. Liu had been arrested and later died in
prison; Deng was exiled to the countryside. In gaining
control, however, Mao had created chaos. Some regions
were torn by armed conflict. To settle matters, Mao
turned the PLA against the Red Guards, many of whom
took their turn in long â€œrehabilitationâ€ stays in the
During the Cultural Revolution, the arts were strictly
controlled. Maoâ€™s wife, Jiang Qing, was part of a group
of high officials, later termed the â€œGang of Four,â€ who
took charge of cultural affairs. A minor film actress
during the 1930s, Jiang supervised the creation of a
23.34 A mixture of traditional ballet and Maoist militarism
as the soldiers drill in The Red Detachment of Women.
500 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
new capitalist class, as the films of Sembene and his African colleagues pointed out.
Maoâ€™s Cultural Revolution was discredited with the
downfall of the Gang of Four, and the revelation of Khmer
Rouge atrocities eliminated Cambodia as a viable model
of Asian socialism. The most visible Third World revolutionary activity became international terrorism, often
sponsored by Middle Eastern nations.
The 1973 rise in oil prices by the petroleumproducing Arab states dealt most Third World economies a staggering blow. The underdeveloped countries
began to accumulate the debts that would haunt them
into the next century. After a decade of revolutionary
rhetoric, most Third World countries remained impoverished agricultural nations ruled by business leaders and
military figures cooperating with the Western powers or
the Soviet bloc.
IN THE FIRST AND SECOND WORLDS
Revolutionary filmmaking, however, had not been confined to the Third World. It had its counterpart in the
developed countries as well. As we have already seen
(Chapter 20), many European and Asian new waves, such
as the Young German Film and the Japanese New Wave,
were critical or left wing in their orientation. Revolutionary agendas arose everywhere during the 1960s, and the
cinemas of the First and Second Worlds played a part in
Eastern Europe and the USSR
The Prague Spring and Its Aftermathâ€ƒThe first major
political upheaval in the Soviet bloc took place in Czechoslovakia. After internal struggles, in January 1968, reformer
Alexander DubÄek took control of the Czech Communist
party. DubÄek encouraged debates, even raising the possibility of a multiparty system. By late June, reform was in the
air. Over sixty scientists, artists, and scholars signed the
â€œTwo Thousand Wordsâ€ manifesto, calling for workersâ€™ selfmanagement, criticism of party authority, and rejection of
The â€œPrague Springâ€ had enormous influence on culture. â€œIn the last few weeks,â€ the film director Jan NemeÄ‡
said, â€œI have been possessed by such a feeling of joy and
liberationâ€”maybe madnessâ€”nothing holds me any
more.â€12 The banned films of 1967 were made available,
and New Wave directors felt at liberty to experiment.
never embraced the Direct Cinema approach, preferring
to use long-tried studio methods reminiscent of 1930s
Hollywood. In Red Detachment, the performance is shot
as if on a theater stage, using artificial trees and
In 1973, other types of features began to be made. All
emphasized political subjects, with stock characters enacting Maoist doctrine. Breaking with Old Ideas (Li Wenhua,
1975), a drama about an agricultural college, illustrates
how schematically Maoâ€™s ideas were treated. He had written that young people were his â€œrevolutionary successors,â€
but he believed that they should not be well educated,
since education gave students advantages over other people and made them elitist. He believed that universities
should not use strict admission requirements, since these
kept peasants and workers out.
In Breaking with Old Ideas, an enthusiastic Maoist,
Principal Lung, takes charge of a college from which the
administrators have barred untutored peasants and workers. Lung questions the young people, admitting one
enthusiastic boy solely because he has worked as a blacksmith. Other peasants recommend a woman who had
been abused by a landlord before the revolution and has
since become an expert rice farmer. When Lung asks if
she is literate, she writes: â€œChairman Mao is our liberator.â€ Triumphant music wells up, and she is immediately
accepted. Lung goes on to impose his policies on the conservative administrators.
The Cultural Revolution lasted well into the 1970s.
As Mao grew senile, the Gang of Four ruthlessly pursued
his policies. After Maoâ€™s death in September 1976, Deng
Xiaoping, who had been rehabilitated in 1973, took control. The Gang was arrested in October 1976 and convicted two years later.
The Cultural Revolution devastated China. As many
as a million people may have died in its turmoil. A generation missed its chance to be educated, and industrial
development halted. In the cinema as well, the Cultural
Revolution created what Chinese call â€œthe lost ten years.â€
Not until the early 1980s did a recovery become visible
(see Chapter 26).
Although politically activist films continued to be
made after the mid-1970s, militant Third-Worldism faded.
In Latin America, insurgent groups were defeated. The
masses were not mobilized, and military regimes terrorized the population. Some Cinema NÃ´vo directors, the
Bolivian SanjinÃ©s, and Chilean and Argentine filmmakers
went into exile. In Africa, most countries lapsed into neocolonial states ruled by authoritarian parties and charismatic dictators. Third-Worldism often helped establish a
Political Filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds 501
For a few months, it appeared that democratic reform
could alter a Communist society, but the invasion applied
what would be known as the â€œBrezhnev doctrine,â€ the policy that the USSR would intervene in any satellite showing
signs of dissent. The Prague rebellion showed that free discussion could lead to political unrest, and most Communist
regimes pulled back from the liberalizing of the mid-1960s.
A parallel debacle took place in Yugoslavia. In
Zagreb, intellectuals had launched critiques of Soviet-style
Communism since the early 1960s. These humanistic
Marxists, much like the leftists of the West, declared their
opposition to any social institutions â€œwhich cripple human
beings, arrest their development, and impose on them patterns of simple, easily predictable, dull, stereotyped behavior.â€14 In the same period, the Central Committee of the
Yugoslavian party demanded economic reform. During
the events of the spring of 1968, students occupied Belgrade University. Tito intervened to break the strike, and
government repression intensified. By 1972, the rising
Croatian nationalist movement provoked the government
to arrest, try, and purge political dissenters.
Yugoslavian film culture of the late 1960s strongly
resembled that of Western Europe. Politically and erotically outspoken, Yugoslavian New Film infuriated conservative factions. Zika PavloviÄ‡â€™s Ambush (1969) and Krsto
PapiÄ‡â€™s Handcuffs (1969) saw traces of the Stalinist past
continuing into the present, while Aleksandar PetroviÄ‡â€™s
The Master and Margarita (1972) compared current
attacks on cinema to Stalinism. The Zagreb Film Festival
of 1970 took as its theme â€œSexuality as an Effort to
Achieve a New Humanism.â€ As pressures increased after
1968, official critics labeled the New Films â€œblack filmsâ€
because of their â€œdefeatismâ€ and â€œnihilism.â€
DuÅ¡an Makavejev offered the most scandalous black
film of the era in WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971).
Like his earlier works, it juggles newsreel footage,
extracts from older fiction films, and a story; it is also,
centrally and explicitly, about sex. A biography of
Wilhelm Reich, a psychoanalyst and radical sex theorist,
is mixed with Direct Cinema footage of current erotic
practices in the United States, newsreels of the Chinese
revolution, and a grotesque story about Milena, a Yugoslavian woman who believes that â€œCommunism without
free love is a wake in a graveyard.â€ WR epitomizes counterculture irreverence, not least in its outrageous juxtapositions (23.35, 23.36). In suggesting that erotic freedom
would revitalize Marxism, Makavejev was attacking
Communist prudery head-on.
In the early 1970s, the government denied distribution to WR, The Master and Margarita, and other black
But the euphoria was short-lived. On August 20,
1968, the USSR ordered 500,000 Warsaw Pact troops to
invade Czechoslovakia. Government officials were flown
to Moscow in handcuffs. With Soviet backing, conservatives halted reforms. In April 1969, DubÄekâ€™s successor
Gustav HusÃ¡k oversaw â€œnormalizationâ€â€”that is, elimination of the 1968 reforms and punishment of rebellious
individuals. Thousands of intellectuals and artists were
forbidden to write, perform, or teach. Within two years,
almost 200,000 Czechs emigrated.
Officials banned any films that exuded the Prague
Spring spirit of social critique. A striking example is JiÅ™Ã
Menzelâ€™s Larks on a String. Menzel had already established an international reputation with Closely Watched
Trains (1966) and Capricious Summer (1967; p. 415).
Larks on a String is set in 1948, when, as a title ironically
informs us, the working class took power in Czechoslovakia. Professionals, intellectuals, and waiters now sort
scrap in a junkyard. Menzel mixes comedy, romance, and
satire in his characteristically poignant way. In the opening scene, the hero and heroine portray loyal socialist
workers for a staged newsreel; ostentatious posters and
banners conceal the junkyard behind them (Color Plate
23.1). Completed in 1969 but denied release, Larks on a
String was charged with â€œcontempt for the working classâ€
and kept Menzel out of filmmaking for five years.
Normalization forced changes in the Czech film industry. The film-unit production system was abolished, and
control was recentralized. One studio head went to prison.
The new regime demanded that political subjects be treated
in an affirmative, heroic wayâ€”a return to Socialist Realism.
Expectably, officials complained of the New Waveâ€™s experimentation and â€œpessimism.â€ In 1973, four previously
released New Wave films, including The Firemenâ€™s Ball and
Report on the Party and the Guests, were banned.
The attacks destroyed the Czech New Wave. Many of
the best directors emigrated. Milos Forman had already
planned to leave, but the repressions drove out Jan NemeÄ‡,
Ivan Passer, JÃ¡n KadÃ¡r, and others. Of the New Wave filmmakers who stayed, most were denied work until the mid1970s. For example, Vera ChytilovÃ¡, director of Something
Different (1963) and Daisies (1966), managed to make the
modernist fantasy The Fruit of Paradise (1970) before the
new freeze set in. For the next six years, she submitted
scripts and sought projects. She was put off, denied
permission to attend foreign festivals, and finally judged
â€œelitistâ€ and â€œuncommitted.â€13 Not until ChytilovÃ¡ wrote
a letter to President HusÃ¡k charging officials with illegality and sexism was she permitted, in 1976, to return to
502 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
cinema underwent a renaissance, with several films winning international recognition.
It was Hungary, however, that moved to the forefront
of Eastern European cinema in the aftermath of the
Prague Spring. The economic reforms created in the late
1960s remained intact, and decentralized planning and a
mixed economy continued well into the mid-1970s. A critical political cinema continued in Hungary, and the four
production units were each making about five films per
year. Because directors such as MiklÃ³s JancsÃ³, MÃ¡rta
MÃ©szÃ¡ros, and IstvÃ¡n SzabÃ³ were closely tied to Western
trends, they are considered later in this chapter.
Dissent and Stagnation in the USSRâ€ƒWhile there was
no â€œMoscow Spring,â€ the early 1960s spawned a USSR
youth movement of sorts. Students scrutinized the history
of Communism and debated party conduct. Liberals and
religious believers formed dissident and pro-democracy
organizations. Writers circulated samizdat (â€œself-publishedâ€)
articles and books. When Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia, protesters crowded Red Square.
Facing a declining economy and a conflict with
China, Party Secretary Leonid Brezhnev sought dÃ©tente
with the West while dealing harshly with dissent at home.
Christians and intellectuals were imprisoned or sent to
films. PetroviÄ‡, who had won worldwide fame with I Even
Met Happy Gypsies (1967), was forced out of his post at
the Film Academy. The party expelled Makavejev and
PavloviÄ‡; Makavejev joined the band of wandering
directors exiled from Eastern Europe.
Polandâ€™s cinema experienced a government crackdown like that in Czechoslovakia, but it recovered more
easily. In the spring of 1968, the Polish government was
debating the need for economic reform. In May, an uprising at Warsaw University was suppressed. The Creative
Film Unit system, which had operated since the mid1950s, was replaced by a centralized organization. Venerated figures like Aleksander Ford were removed from their
After workersâ€™ strikes in the early 1970s, however,
party boss Wladyslaw Gomulka was replaced by a more
concessive leadership. The freer atmosphere reanimated
Polish cinema. The production units were reorganized,
with filmmakers having even more control than they previously had. A literature-based cinema won over audiences
and solidified the production units. Andrzej Wajda
returned to the center of Polish cinema with Landscape
after Battle (1970), Wedding (1972), and Land of Promise
(1975). Several new talents appeared, most notably
Krzysztof Zanussi, a former physics student who brought
his scientific training to bear on contemporary dramas in
The Structure of Crystals (1969), Illumination (1972), and
Other Eastern European cinemas flourished in the
post-invasion era. In Romania, which had only loose ties
to the USSR, the late 1960s saw a liberalization. More
experimentation was permitted, and in the early 1970s
decentralized production units were formed. The Bulgarian government created a production-unit system in 1968,
and three years later it installed new management in the
industry. The nationâ€™s most celebrated film was Todor
Dinov and Hristo Hristovâ€™s Iconostasis (1969), somewhat
similar to Andrei Tarkovskyâ€™s Andrei Rublev in its echoes
of folk and religious art (23.37). After 1971, Bulgarian
23.35, leftâ€ƒThe calculated effrontery
of Makavejevâ€™s WR: in a cult-of-Stalin
fiction feature, the leader declaims that
the USSR will fulfill Leninâ€™s legacy.
This is followed by . . .
23.36, rightâ€ƒ. . . a shot of a patient
receiving electroshock therapy (WR).
23.37 Iconostasis: the icon painter and his creation.
Political Filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds 503
levitates (23.39). While the mainstream A Slave of Love
(Nikita Mikhalkov, 1976) was enjoying worldwide success, Soviet authorities declared The Mirror incomprehensible and gave it a cramped, unprofitable release.
Sergei Paradzhanov remains the most vivid example
of how the personal became political in Soviet cinema.
After his Ukrainian feature Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
(p. 412) won international success, Paradzhanov used his
new fame to protest the treatment of dissidents. In 1968,
he was arrested on charges of â€œUkrainian nationalismâ€;
after his release, he was transferred to an Armenian
studio, where he made The Color of Pomegranates.
Although the script is based on the life of the
Armenian poet Sayat Nova, a prologue tells us that the
film will not be a conventional biography. Long-take shots
frame characters, animals, and objects in rigid frontal tableaux (Color Plate 23.3). Editing serves merely to link
these shots or to cut jarringly into the static portraits. The
filmâ€™s mise-en-scÃ¨ne presents Sayat Novaâ€™s poetic imagery:
waterlogged books opened out to dry on rooftops, carpets
bleeding as they are washed, chicken feathers scattering
mental hospitals. Physicist Andrei Sakharovâ€™s Human
Rights Committee was steadily undermined by the secret
police. In 1970, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel
Prize for literature, but when his novel The Gulag Archipelago (1973) revealed the horrors of Stalinâ€™s prison camps,
he was deported. (He moved to Vermont in 1976 and
returned to Russia in 1994.)
In cinema, production averaged about 130 features
annually. But the new freeze demanded a return to Socialist
Realism, now called â€œpedagogical realism.â€ Energetic factory workers and World War II heroes came back to the
screen. Some of the more idiosyncratic directors of the
New Wave, such as Vasily Shukshin, produced well-crafted
literary adaptations. In the late 1960s, Andrei Konchalovsky
had proposed a film on Che Guevara, but he too turned to
In the regional republics, however, intense antiRussian nationalism created a â€œpoetic cinema.â€ Alexander
Dovzhenkoâ€™s peasant lyricism offered filmmakers a distant precedent (p. 113), and Sergei Paradzhanovâ€™s
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) reopened the way
toward a personal treatment of folk material. Georgi
Shengelayaâ€™s Pirosmani (1969) used the artist-biography
genre to treat a folk painter, a subject that carried nationalistic connotations but also justified experiments in abstract
shot design (Color Plate 23.2). Similar efforts were
Ukrainian Yuri Ilienkoâ€™s White Bird with a Black Mark
(1972) and Georgian Otar Iosselianiâ€™s Pastorale (1977).
Two other directors associated with the poetic tendency emerged as central to the new Soviet cinema.
Andrei Tarkovskyâ€™s Andrei Rublev, suppressed in 1966,
premiered in Paris in 1969. After widespread acclaim
abroad, it was released in the USSR. By then Tarkovsky
had completed his third feature, Solaris (1972), widely
touted as Russiaâ€™s answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey
(p. 468). Its ambiguous depiction of the heroâ€™s delusions
is motivated by its space-travel premise, but typically
Tarkovskian are passages of mystical contemplation:
weeds coiling under water, an endless freeway, and the
awe-inspiring final images (23.38). Tarkovsky wanted to
avoid an ideological message: â€œThe image is not a certain
meaning, expressed by the director, but an entire world
reflected as a drop of water.â€15
The reflection of the artistâ€™s world is carried to an
extreme in The Mirror (1975), a poetic blend of childhood
memories, documentary footage, and fantastic imagery.
As Tarkovskyâ€™s voice recites his fatherâ€™s poetry offscreen,
the camera slides across a room, moving from a cat lapping a puddle of milk to the mother at the window, tearfully watching the rain. A barn burns in a downpour; a
man is almost blown over in a windy landscape; a woman
23.38 In Solaris, the hero kneels before his father as the
camera retreats to a Godâ€™s-eye perspective.
23.39 The Mirror: the enigma of memory and fantasy.
504 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
blocked induction centers. Between 1967 and 1969, resistance turned to confrontation, with activists occupying
buildings and fighting police in the streets.
By then, the issue of Vietnam had become part of a
broader push for social change. Throughout the First
World, the student movement launched a critique of postâ€“
World War II capitalist society. The university was seen as
a machine of social control, cranking out well-behaved
managers and technicians. Around the world, students
protested crowded classes, poor facilities, impersonal
teaching, and irrelevant programs.
Other social movements shaped the radical politics
of the period. In the United States, the Black Power
movement emerged around 1965. While the civil rights
movement stressed legal and nonviolent reform, Black
Power called for a more aggressive stanceâ€”crystallized in
the public mind by the militant Black Panther party,
founded in 1966. African American students protested
segregation and demanded black studies programs.
During the same period, the womenâ€™s liberation movement reemerged in the United States and Britain, influenced by the civil rights movement and reacting against
sexism, found even within the New Left leadership. Gay
and lesbian groups, which had become more outspoken
in the early 1960s, often joined the New Left and the
By the end of 1967, many social-protest movements
had converged. There began two years of political upheaval
unparalleled in the West since World War II. The events of
1968 led many to believe that Western society was on the
brink of social revolution.
In that year, universities in Spain, Germany, England,
Italy, and Japan were convulsed by student demonstrations, many of which turned into battles with police. Similar clashes took place on hundreds of American campuses.
The political outrage intensified after Martin Luther King
Jr., and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.
Events in Paris during spring 1968 typified the radical energies and frustrations of the period. Students disaffected with official left-wing parties split into Maoist
or Trotskyite factions. Students confronted university
administrators at Nanterre and the Sorbonne, only to be
met with tear gas and truncheons. After half a million
students took to the streets, the universities were occupied, and ten million French citizens went on strike in
solidarity. During the 1968 upheaval, French film culture plunged into radical politics (see box).
The May events led many to think that de Gaulleâ€™s
government might fall in the June elections, but he won in
a landslide. Life gradually returned to routine as the government cracked down on extreme-left groups.
over the dying poet. Although Paradzhanovâ€™s style differs
drastically from Tarkovskyâ€™s, both directors contemplate
the changing textures of objects through time.
The Color of Pomegranates was probably the most
shockingly experimental film made in the USSR since the
late 1920s. It was immediately shelved, although a shorter,
revised version achieved limited release in 1971. Forbidden to direct, Paradzhanov fought back. He wrote a pamphlet on his problems and those of Soviet cinema. In
January 1974, he was accused of homosexuality, trafficking in stolen art objects, and â€œincitement to suicide.â€ He
was sentenced to several years at hard labor.
In the Eastern bloc, Socialist Realist policy obliged
the artist to serve societyâ€”or rather its representative, the
Communist party. The major Eastern European directors
such as ChytilovÃ¡, JancsÃ³, and Makavejev believed that
their visions were in harmony with some socialist position, even if that position was not currently in favor. But
the poetic cinema of Tarkovsky and Paradzhanov presented the artistâ€™s vision as independent of all needs of the
collective. Their highly personal films thus boldly challenged the Soviet orthodoxy and echoed trends in the
West that sought political liberation in the unconstrained
imagination of the individual.
Political Cinema in the West
The year of the Prague Spring, 1968, also marked the
height of social protest in Western countries. As in the
Third World and Eastern Europe, young people played a
By 1966, many students were questioning authority
and rejecting traditional political values. Some were drawn
to the New Left, a diverse movement propounding a spontaneous Marxism opposed to orthodox Soviet varieties.
University students were central to the New Left in the
United States, Britain, France, Japan, West Germany, and
even Francoâ€™s Spain. Another element in youth politics
was loosely known as the counterculture. It spanned a
range of alternative lifestyles, free-flowing eroticism,
immersion in rock music, experiments in communal living, and drug use in the name of expanded consciousness.
Although some counterculture bohemians considered
themselves apolitical, many felt allied with the New Left.
The international politics of youth focused on several
issues. A key one was Americaâ€™s role in the Vietnam War,
which steadily intensified after American planes began
bombing North Vietnam in 1965. US organizations such
as Students for a Democratic Society actively opposed the
war. This opposition began as protest but hardened into
resistance, as young men refused the draft and activists
Political Filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds 505
kidnapping, and political assassination to Western capitals in the 1970s.
Radical political movements steadily lost their authority as New Left ideas were incorporated into more mainstream socialist and Communist parties. The excesses of
the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the revelations of
Solzhenitsynâ€™s The Gulag Archipelago suggested that
Communism led to totalitarian rule. With the middle class
governing the Western democracies, there was a growing
awareness that social change was more likely to come
through issue-oriented, grassroots activism.
So the militancy of the late 1960s evolved into a micropolitics. Activists concentrated on particular lifestyles
and issuesâ€”cooperatives, communes, squattersâ€™ movements, and the ecology movement. â€œWorking within the
systemâ€ ceased to be a reproach. German leftists adapted
a Maoist phrase, calling for social change by â€œthe long
march through the institutions.â€
The growth of gay and lesbian movements shows how
radical energies could change concrete situations. In 1969,
In April 1970, President Nixonâ€™s widening of the
Vietnam War into Cambodia touched off a new wave of
protest in the United States. Nearly 400 colleges went on
strike, students on many campuses burned their ROTC
buildings, and sixteen states called out the National
Guard. Two students were shot and killed at Mississippiâ€™s
Jackson State University, and four more were killed at
Ohioâ€™s Kent State University.
Already, however, the radical movement was losing
unity. By 1970, the student left in most countries had
failed to ally itself with working-class issues. In the
United States, the Black Panthers and the New Left fell
out. Many feminists, gays, and lesbians saw the New Left
as oppressive and formed their own organizations.
During 1969 and 1970, some radicals, convinced that
only violence could defeat â€œthe system,â€ formed terrorist
cadres, such as the Weathermen in the United States, the
Red Brigade in Italy, and the Red Army Faction (BaaderMeinhof) in Germany. Often modeling themselves after
Third World guerrillas, these groups brought bombing,
FILM ACTIVITIES DURING THE MAY EVENTS IN PARIS
French film culture was deeply involved in the upheavals
of 1968. Early in February, the government tried to remove
Henri Langlois as curator of the CinÃ©mathÃ¨que FranÃ§aise.
Resnais, Truffaut, Godard, Bresson, Chabrol, and others
coordinated demonstrations of hundreds of filmmakers.
On February 14, 3,000 people demonstrating in support of
Langlois clashed with police. Thanks to press coverage
and threats from film companies, Langlois was reinstated.
As the May uprising unfolded, Godard spearheaded
an effort to halt the Cannes Film Festival, leading demonstrators to occupy the theaters. Truffaut called on all to
support the events in Paris: â€œThe colleges are occupied!
The factories are occupied! The stations are occupied! Itâ€™s
political action on an unprecedented scale! And you want
this activity to stop at the doors of the festival? . . . There
must be solidarity!â€16 After Godard and Truffaut halted a
screening by holding the curtains closed, the Cannes Film
Festival shut down.
In Paris, students at the state film school IDHEC
quickly began making newsreels and cinÃ©-tracts (p. 506).
The issues broadened as cinÃ©astes and cinÃ©philes
launched a critique of film under capitalism. A large number of professional film workers established the Ã‰tats
GÃ©nÃ©raux du CinÃ©ma (EGC). The EGC aimed to create an
alternative French system of production, distribution, and
exhibition. Members, many of them technicians and projectionists, went on strike â€œto denounce and destroy the
reactionary structures of a cinema which has become a
The EGC called for public ownership of the film industry, workersâ€™ control of production, abolition of censorship,
and elimination of the governmentâ€™s Centre Nationale de
CinÃ©matographie (pp. 335â€“336). The EGC prepared several projects, involving Malle, Resnais, and other influential
figures, and it laid plans for autonomous production units
(akin to those in Eastern Europe) that could undertake
noncommercial projects. Members also stressed the need
for educating viewers in new ways of watching film.
Throughout May and June, the EGC held sessions. It
quickly became a filmmaking cooperative, turning out documentaries over the following two years. But without government support, there was no way to implement the ambitious
EGC proposals. As Charles de Gaulle regained power, most
film personnel resumed work as usual. In July, many of the
filmmakers involved in the EGC formed the SociÃ©tÃ© des
RÃ©alisateurs (â€œSociety of Film Directorsâ€), which took as its
goal the defense of artistic freedom. Beyond this, the May
movement created some long-term political commitment, a
â€œparallel cinemaâ€ of militant engagement, and alternative
production and distribution structures.
506 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
would band together and work in subgroups on separate
projects. Rental fees helped finance more films. Britainâ€™s
Cinema Action and Berwick Street Collective, Italyâ€™s
Militant Cinema Collective, Denmarkâ€™s Workshop,
Swedenâ€™s New Film, Belgiumâ€™s Fugitive Cinema, Greeceâ€™s
Band of 6, the Chicago-based Kartemquin, and other
groups utilized the collective mode of production. Often
the groupâ€™s collective structure itself embodied left-wing
ideals of equality and shared responsibility.
One prototype of the engaged-cinema collective was
the US group Newsreel. In late 1967, students aligned
with Students for a Democratic Society decided to make
films that would counter the mainstream mediaâ€™s representation of protests against the Vietnam War. This group
became New York Newsreel. Early in 1968, another group
formed San Francisco Newsreel.
The Newsreel logoâ€”the flickering word synchronized
with machine-gun fireâ€”announced the militant, confrontational quality of the films. The Newsreel groups specialized
in coverage of individual events, such as the occupation
of a campus, a strike, or a demonstration. Beginning as a
â€œfull democracy,â€ the Newsreel collective soon adopted a
steering-committee system whereby every film was
screened for the entire membership and was released only
if a majority supported it.
A parallel development took place in France. During
May 1968, striking film workers created cinÃ©-tracts, short
16mm films made simply and circulated for a few weeks.
These sometimes led to the formation of collectives. For
example, the SLON Group made its first film, Ã€ bientÃ´t
jâ€™Ã©spÃ¨re (â€œSoon, I Hopeâ€), codirected by Chris Marker and
Mario Marret, in 1967; it dealt with a strike at La Rhodia,
a textile factory in BesanÃ§on. When the factoryâ€™s workers
were dissatisfied with the result, they formed their own
cooperative, the Medvedkin Group, and made Classe de
lutte (â€œClass of Struggleâ€), released in 1969. SLON (later
ISKRA) remained robust, however. Godard teamed up
with Jean-Pierre Gorin to form the Dziga-Vertov Group.
Other production units sprang up, each with its own ideological alignments. Such collectives formed Franceâ€™s
â€œoppositional,â€ or â€œparallel,â€ cinema.
Collectives usually depended on alternative distribution and exhibition structures. Marin Karmitz created a
distribution company and ran three Parisian theaters. In
the United States, New Day Films and Women Make
Movies circulated feminist works, while Newsreel distributed films from Third World countries along with its own
projects. Other independent distribution agencies included
Belgiumâ€™s CinÃ©libre, Hollandâ€™s Free Circuit and the
feminist Cinemien, Swedenâ€™s Cinema of the People, and
Britainâ€™s The Other Cinema.
gay men in New York City fought off a police raid on the
Stonewall bar. Throughout the period from 1969 to 1973,
gay and lesbian activism flourished in Britain, Canada,
Australia, West Germany, and France. Groups changed
laws and altered attitudes toward homosexuality.
During the 1970s, womenâ€™s liberation broadened into
the feminist movement. Some participants hoped for a
radical restructuring of social consciousness, but others
sought step-by-step progress toward equality and justice.
Italian feminists helped liberalize divorce laws, while
across Europe and North America similar groups altered
abortion statutes. In country after country, womenâ€™s
shelters, clinics, legal services, child-care centers, and
bookstores created an alternative â€œwomanâ€™s culture.â€
Most broadly, both the militant radicalism of the late
1960s and the micropolitics of the 1970s changed fundamental attitudes. The goals of universities, the social and
sexual inequality within Western democracies, and matters of sexual orientation became part of public awareness
as never before.
Filmmakers participated vigorously in the politicization of culture. Three broad tendencies emerged from the
late 1960s to the mid-1970s. First, engaged cinema uncompromisingly aligned itself with revolutionary social change.
Its purpose was explicitly propagandistic, and its favored
genre was the documentary. Second, alongside engaged
cinema there emerged a political modernism. This tendency, an outgrowth of the postwar art cinema and Third
World trends such as Cinema NÃ´vo (see Chapter 20), created a radical aesthetic that fused left-wing politics with
innovative forms and styles. And, third, even the commercial fictional film and the mainstream art cinema bore the
traces of the changing political culture.
Engaged Cinema: Collective Productions and Militant
Filmsâ€ƒDuring the 1960s and early 1970s, a cinema of
political engagement, addressing itself to concrete social
problems and arguing for radical social change, emerged on
a scale not seen since the 1930s. A project might be
financed by a political organization, as when the Vietnam
Veterans Against the War supported Winter Soldier (United
States, 1972). Sometimes an individual filmmaker or small
group might scrape up funding from donors; this occurred
with Noriaki Tsuchimotoâ€™s series of films on Japanâ€™s
Minamata pollution tragedy (e.g., Minamata: The Victims
and Their World, 1972). In rare cases, independent producers arranged funding for radical work. In France, Marin
Karmitzâ€™s MK Productions had supported militant cinema
Particularly characteristic of the era was the attempt
to create filmmaking collectives. Militant filmmakers
Political Filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds 507
and Banners (1978) by the Womenâ€™s Labor History
Project. Womenâ€™s filmmaking groups emerged in other
countries as well, with Franceâ€™s Musidora, Italyâ€™s Feminist
Film Collective, and Australiaâ€™s Sydney Womenâ€™s Film
Collective being among the most active.
Techniques and Forms of Engaged Cinemaâ€‚In general,
engaged filmmakers adopted the techniques and forms
established by Direct Cinema documentary in the late
1950s. The new 16mm technology of lightweight cameras,
portable tape recorders, and faster film stocks could be
used for agitational moviemaking, often by people without
formal training. But the engaged filmmakers typically
avoided purely descriptive observation of the type advocated by Richard Leacock (p. 437). Direct Cinema technique supplied evidence, but the film as a whole was likely
to be defiantly rhetorical in confronting its audience.
The typical engaged film draws upon both spontaneously shot reportage and more or less staged interviews.
Most Newsreel films, such as Break and Enter (1971), combine street footage of demonstrations and interviews with
participants. A film might strongly emphasize reportage,
as does Some of Your Best Friends (1972), which records
gay activistsâ€™ invasion of a psychiatric conference. The
filmmakerâ€™s reliance on candid footage could go beyond
the single event, the normal province of Direct Cinema,
and suggest broader trends, as does Pierre Perrault in his
survey of political agitation in QuÃ©bec, A Country without
Good Sense!; or, Wake Up, My Good Friends!!! (1970). As in
any compilation film, reportage could be enhanced by the
sound track (in Newsreel films, often rock and roll) or
interpolated footage, as in Newsreelâ€™s Oil Strike (1969),
which included a company promotional film to mock
managementâ€™s public relations face.
During the 1970s, engaged filmmakers also explored
the interview technique. Now entire films were built
around talking heads. In feminist filmmaking, this led to a
genre of â€œfilm portraits,â€ often in an effort to create positive role models for women. The Womenâ€™s Film consists of
intercut interviews with five women, talking about work
and married life, followed by footage of them meeting in
consciousness-raising groups. Three Lives, Growing Up
Female, and Union Maids all render the individualâ€™s report
on her experience through lengthy close-ups. This tendency recalls Shirley Clarkeâ€™s Portrait of Jason (p. 525)
and probably owes something to the central role of the
consciousness-raising groups in the womenâ€™s liberation
movement. A similar strategy is at work in the lesbian or
gay â€œconfessionalâ€ film, such as Lavender (1972). In Word
Is Out (1977; 23.40) the accumulation of many interviews
seeks to provide a panorama of gay and lesbian life.
Like Solanas and Getino of Cine LiberaciÃ³n, engaged
filmmakers in the West sought to change the context in
which their work was shown. Some avoided traditional
theaters, preferring that the films be screened in clubs,
union meetings, and campus or community centers. Many
filmmakers also hoped that the audience would discuss
the film. In some countries, these alternative venues provided a parallel outlet for films. In France, the festival of
HyÃ¨res, created as a showcase for young directors, became
an international meeting place for engaged cinema. In
1972, the first New York Womenâ€™s Film Festival was held,
quickly followed by similar events in Toronto and
New film journalsâ€”Jump Cut and Women and Film in
the United States, Champ libre in Canada, Filmkritik and
frauen und film in West Germany, and CinÃ©thique in
France, among many othersâ€”also promoted recent radical
filmmaking. Older magazines, such as the US Cineaste
and the Parisian Cahiers du cinÃ©ma, moved to a left
Even though radical leftism declined in the mid1970s, engaged filmmaking remained central to the micropolitics of the era. A June 1979 alternative-cinema
conference in New York assembled over 400 political
activists working in film and video in the United States. In
some countries, government liberalization led to funding
for militant film. The new Labour government in Britain
assisted Liberation Film and Cinema Action, while in
France the regional Maisons de la Culture allotted money
for local media groups. Some parallel distribution and
exhibition circuits proved successful in promoting films
about nuclear power, day care, ethnic rights, and similar
In the United States and Great Britain, feminist filmmaking pioneered the turn to issue-centered, grassroots
problems. By 1977, 250 womenâ€™s films had been produced
in the United States alone. Although some feminist films
were made under the auspices of New York Newsreel
between 1968 and 1969, the first major Newsreel effort
came from the San Francisco wing. The Womanâ€™s Film
(1970) was followed by New York Newsreelâ€™s Janieâ€™s Janie
(1971). Other feminist engaged films of the period were
Julia Reichert and Chuck Kleinâ€™s Growing Up Female
(1970) and Kate Millettâ€™s Three Lives (1970). British feminist cinema was initiated by the London Womenâ€™s Film
Group (founded 1972), and it often sought to link womenâ€™s concerns with labor issues.
As the international womenâ€™s movement grew, films
on rape, self-defense, and housekeeping were paralleled by
explorations of womenâ€™s history, the latter most widely
seen in the US films Union Maids (1976) and With Babies
508 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
evidence. Although the film has virtually no voice-of-God
narration, intervieweesâ€™ remarks become voice-over commentary for the images (23.41).
In the Year of the Pig gained a wide audience on campuses and in some theatrical venues. So did Millhouse:
A White Comedy (1971), in which De Antonioâ€™s compilation technique satirizes Richard Nixon. The more serious
Underground (1976) provided an opportunity to reflect on
developments since the 1960s. In 1975, while five Weathermen members were sought by the FBI, De Antonio,
Mary Lampson, and Haskell Wexler filmed lengthy interviews with them, interspersing their memories with
biographical and newsreel footage (23.42).
A comparable sense of stocktaking informs Milestones
(1975), by Robert Kramer and John Douglas. Kramer was
a founder of New York Newsreel who also developed a
semifictional approach to New Left politics in the independent features In the Country (1966), The Edge (1968),
and Ice (1970). Like the earlier features, Milestones was
shot in Direct Cinema fashion, using improvised performances. Featuring several protagonists and running over
three hours, the film is a broad assessment of the successes
and failures of the New Left.
Political Modernismâ€ƒIn seeking to rouse the viewer to
political reflection or action, the engaged filmmaker drew
on Direct Cinema technology and the tradition of leftist
documentary. Other militant filmmakers explored modernist traditions. These directors combined politically radical
themes and subjects with aesthetically radical form, pushing further the impulses of Brazilâ€™s Cinema NÃ´vo and
Cubaâ€™s postrevolutionary cinema.
Throughout the 1970s, some feature-length engaged
documentaries played commercial theaters. In the United
States, Peter Davisâ€™s Hearts and Minds (1974), Cinda Firestoneâ€™s Attica (1974), Jill Godmilowâ€™s Antonia (1974),
Word Is Out, Union Maids, and With Babies and Banners
drew broad audiences.
De Antonio and Radical Scavengingâ€‚The engaged filmmaker who consistently achieved commercial recognition
was Emile De Antonio. His first film, Point of Order (1963;
p. 431) was devoted to the congressional hearings investigating Senator Joseph McCarthy. Point of Order showed
that mainstream news-footage shots could sustain a politically critical film with no nudging from an anonymous
voice-over narrator. Rush to Judgment (1966), a brief for a
multiple-assassin theory of President John Kennedyâ€™s
death, brought interviews into the compilation mix.
â€œRadical scavengingâ€ allowed De Antonio to include
footage that was too controversial for its original users. In
the Year of the Pig (1969), an analytical history of the
Vietnam War, drew on material shot for television that
was too grisly or embarrassing to broadcast. (â€œOut-takes,â€
De Antonio commented at the time, â€œare the confessions
of the system.â€18) In the Year of the Pig makes its case
through a variety of techniques. In the hallucinatory
opening, brief, almost subliminal images of battle and
peasantsâ€™ suffering interrupt a black screen while the
drone of airplanes and helicopters rises chillingly. The
rest of the film puts the argument in analytical terms, juxtaposing expert and eyewitness testimony with news footage of speeches, ceremonies, battles, and Vietnamese life.
De Antonioâ€™s editing uses one interview to contradict
another and undercuts official accounts by contrary
23.40 Word Is Out: an interviewee sits
by a poster indicating her feminist
23.41â€ƒOn the sound track, Lyndon
Johnson reviews his trip to Saigon:
â€œWe never heard a hostile voice, and we
never shook a hostile handâ€; on the
image track, he towers over the crowd
(In the Year of the Pig).
23.42 Filming into a mirror,
Lampson, Wexler, and De Antonio
interview Weathermen fugitives who
went into hiding after their Greenwich
Village bomb factory exploded (In the
Year of the Pig).
Political Filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds 509
reflexivity, and ambiguity in the name of radical critique. At the forefront of this political modernism stood
Jean-Luc Godard and Nagisa Oshima.
Godard and the Dziga-Vertov Groupâ€‚Before the May
events, Godard was already fusing political criticism with
modernist aesthetics. His films mounted an almost sociological examination of French life, accompanied by harsh
attacks on American foreign policy (for example, MasculineFeminine, 1966, and Two or Three Things I Know about Her,
The political modernists took inspiration from the
Soviet Montage cinema of the 1920s. Eisenstein and
Vertov became models of political consciousness and
formal innovation. Even more pervasive was the influence of the Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht (see
box). In addition, many radical filmmakers sought to
surpass the postwar art cinema. Its techniques had
become fairly familiar and its mildly critical liberalism
seemed reformist, not revolutionary. The political modernist director would transform character subjectivity,
BRECHT AND POLITICAL MODERNISM
Although Bertolt Brecht (23.43) was closely identified
with Soviet Communism in his lifetime, his creative work
contributed to a strong â€œunorthodox Marxistâ€ tradition in
the arts. For thirty years his plays explored many forms of
theater, some explicitly political, others closer to musical,
parable, and â€œproblem dramaâ€: The Threepenny Opera
(1928), The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1929),
Mother Courage and Her Children (1941), The Good
Woman of Szechuan (1943), and others.
Brechtâ€™s film Kuhle Wampe (1932, directed by Slatan
Dudow; p. 272) was not as influential for modern cinema
as were his theatrical productions and his writings. The
hugely successful 1950s tour of his East German troupe,
the Berliner Ensemble, introduced European audiences to
Brechtâ€™s theater. When he died in 1956, his influence was
In a pungent, often humorous, style, Brecht attacked
traditional, or â€œAristotelian,â€ theater, on the grounds that it
tries to absorb the audience completely. The spectator is
supposed to identify with individual characters, feel their
emotions, and accept the premises of the playâ€™s world. A
committed Marxist, Brecht saw art as inevitably political.
Impressed by Eisensteinâ€™s Potemkin, he also believed that
playwrights would cease to focus on individuals and would
eventually represent mass movements.
Brecht contrasted the drama of hypnotic empathy
with Asian theater and the boxing match, which encourage spectators to take a more detached attitude to what
they see. Brecht proposed several techniques that
might accomplish this: breaking the play into episodes,
interspersing titles, separating text from music or performance, and letting the performers speak the lines as if
quoting them. These and other devices created the
Verfremdungseffekt, often translated as â€œalienation effectâ€
but better rendered as â€œestrangingâ€ or â€œdefamiliarizing.â€
Through this effect, the spectator would evaluate the
action critically and see larger historical forces at work
behind it. The spectator could then start to understand
how to change the world that created the charactersâ€™
Brechtâ€™s influence emerged in cinema in the early
1960s, notably in Godardâ€™s Vivre sa vie (1962; see 20.16).
His ideas energized a generation of political modernist
filmmakers who sought to break the â€œillusion of realityâ€ that
classical fiction films created for the spectator. Filmmakers
used collage structures, disjunctive editing, stylized
framing and acting, and interspersed titles to achieve
â€œanti-illusionistâ€ works that would provoke reflection.
Brechtâ€™s influence also extended to less avant-garde
films, such as How I Won the War (1967), Oh What a Lovely
War! (1969), and O Lucky Man! (1973). Some critics claimed
that even Sirk, Hitchcock, and Ford were â€œBrechtian.â€ In
many cases, filmmakers and critics recast and distorted the
dramatistâ€™s ideas. Nevertheless, the versions of Brechtian
theory in circulation during the 1960s and 1970s remain
central to understanding critical political cinema of the era.
23.43 A shot in Godardâ€™s La Chinoise shows a photo of Brecht.
510 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
Each Dziga-Vertov Group film is an assemblage of
diverse material, juxtaposing Direct Cinema footage (street
scenes, labor actions, conversations) with titles and highly
stylized tableaux (23.45), often with direct address to the
camera. Unlike Godardâ€™s earlier works, where such material
interrupts a more or less coherent narrative, the DzigaVertov Group films largely lack stories. Rapid montages of
still photos and blank frames alternate with long takes,
either completely static or slowly tracking right or left. On
the sound track, voices read extracts from Marx or Mao or
exhort the viewer to criticize the image. Noises, as in the
lengthy tracking shot down an auto assembly line in British
Sounds, also assault the audience. Impossible to consume as
entertainment or as engaged documentary, the films carry
the modernist project to an abrasive extreme.
Tout va bien withdraws from this forbidding extreme,
subscribing instead to Brechtâ€™s notion of â€œculinaryâ€â€”that is,
pleasurableâ€”political art. The film has, for one thing, a fairly
clear story. A radio journalist (Jane Fonda) and her lover
(Yves Montand), a director of TV commercials, accidentally
get locked into a factory occupied during a strike. The experience makes them rethink their relation to each other, to the
aftermath of May 1968, and to French society in 1972. Yet
this story is â€œestrangedâ€ by a host of Brechtian devices: male
and female voice-overs that plan how the film is to be made,
hands signing checks to the stars, to-camera interviews by the
characters, a cutaway set (23.46), virtuoso left-and-right
tracking shots along supermarket checkout counters, and
alternate versions of scenes. Tout va bien remains a prototypical Brechtian film; its reflexivity invites the audience to consider the political implications of film form and style.
After 1972, Godard created a media facility, Sonimage, in Grenoble, France, with the photographer AnneMarie MiÃ©ville. The male-female dialogue of Tout va bien
1967). In La Chinoise (â€œThe Chinese Girl,â€ 1967) a Maoist
study group turns into a terrorist cadre. Weekend (1967)
shows the bourgeoisie, preoccupied with greed, murder, and
gruesome sexuality, overtaken by an absurd guerrilla band
while Third World emigrants stand by awaiting their chance
for revolt. With the eruptions of 1968, Godard turned his
energies to a more severe and cerebral political modernism.
During the May events, Godard produced several
cinÃ©-tracts, consisting of demonstration footage and still
photographs, usually with phrases scribbled over each one
(23.44). His films of 1968 alternate such material with
dialogues of characters exploring political positions: a
young man and a woman in a black vacuum in Le Gai
savoir (â€œJoyful Wisdom,â€ 1968), a group of workers and
students (all barely visible in tall grass) in Un Film comme
les autres (â€œA Film Like the Others,â€ 1968). After One
Plus One (aka Sympathy for the Devil, 1968), which
juxtaposes a Rolling Stones rehearsal with staged scenes
depicting political repression and black revolution,
Godard joined the young Communist Jean-Pierre Gorin in
forming the Dziga-Vertov Group.
The collective marked itself as politically modernist,
declaring that it would struggle not only against political
repression but also against â€œthe bourgeois concept of representation.â€19 Renouncing his previous films, Godard
converted to Maoism and support for Third World revolution. Because his name guaranteed funding, usually from
European television, the Dziga-Vertov Group turned out
several films quickly, notably British Sounds and Wind
from the East (both 1969). The group dissolved when
Godard had a severe motorcycle accident, but after his
recovery he and Gorin made Tout va bien (â€œEverythingâ€™s
Fineâ€) and Letter to Jane (both 1972), which are linked
with the earlier work.
23.45 Godardian flattening of space put at the service of
political critique in Luttes en Italie (â€œStruggles in Italy,â€ 1969).
23.44 In Un Film comme les autres, Godard appropriates
advertising imagery and then attacks it through his own graffitilike comments.
Political Filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds 511
security treaty. Oshima made several films about student
politics, notably Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1968) and He
Died after the War (1970). He also turned his attention to
the social problems of Koreans (in Death by Hanging, 1968)
and of Okinawans (in Dear Summer Sister, 1972), groups
who were suffering discrimination at Japanese hands.
Oshima also continued to explore modernist techniques of disjunction and distancing. He became especially drawn to strategies of repetition, replaying actions
or episodes from different perspectives and offering none
as definitively true or accurate. Twenty minutes into Three
Resurrected Drunkards (1968), the film begins again, as if
the projectionist has put on the wrong reel, and continues,
repeating each shot before slight diversions from the original slowly appear. The device makes the three Japanese
students â€œbecomeâ€ Koreans. In He Died after the War (aka
The Man Who Left His Will on Film), the militant student
Motoki tries to decipher the footage left behind by a
friend. Visiting the sites his friend filmed, Motoki sees
each one trigger violence.
Repetition is also central to Death by Hanging, based
on an actual criminal case. R, a young Korean convicted
of rape and murder, is about to be hanged. To convince
him of his guilt, police and bureaucrats stage elaborate
reenactments of his crime until they (perhaps) kill an
innocent victim themselves. Only then does R accept his
guilt, â€œfor the sake of all Rs.â€ The filmâ€™s stylized sets
(23.48) and grotesque comedy stress its central issues:
Koreans as an oppressed minority, capital punishment as
political control, and sexual murder as an inevitable outcome of social repression. Oshima urged that the original
criminalâ€™s letters become high school reading.20
Unlike Godard, Oshima alternated very experimental
films like Three Resurrected Drunkards and Death by
Hanging with more accessible works like Boy (1969), the
story of parents who make a living by shoving their child
into traffic and then collecting payment for his injuries.
became central to their mid-1970s work. Ici et ailleurs
(â€œHere and Elsewhere,â€ 1976), for example, returns to the
assemblage form of the Dziga-Vertov Group work, while
Godard and MiÃ©ville in voice-over reflect on the Palestinian liberation movement and discuss visual and auditory
representation (23.47). Several Godard-MiÃ©ville films
include video imagery, which allows for still more varied
juxtapositions of image, sound, and written language.
The Radical Oshimaâ€‚For most critics of the decade from
1967 to 1977, Godard personified the political modernist,
creating a formally and ideologically exploratory cinema.
The work of the Japanese director Nagisa Oshima was not
as widely seen, but it was no less aggressive and disturbing.
The Japanese New Wave filmmakers had begun producing socially critical films in the late 1950s (p. 421). A
decade later, Oshima and other directors recorded and supported current social activism against the Vietnam War,
education policies, and renewal of the American-Japanese
23.47 â€œEach time, one image comes to replace the other . . .
keeping, of course, the memoryâ€: images of Palestinian struggle
presented in a personification of the process of montage (Ici et
23.46 Tout va bien: a factory on strike, rendered as a
23.48 In an abstract, purified set, R is about to be executed
(Death by Hanging).
512 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
Political modernism after 1967 also embraced fantasy and parable. The return of Luis BuÃ±uel to international fame rekindled interest in the Surrealist tradition,
which had nursed revolutionary aspirations since the
1920s. Many viewers considered The Discreet Charm of
the Bourgeoisie (1972) and The Phantom of Liberty (1974)
to be sly comments on official repressions of the 1968
Closer to the ferocity of BuÃ±uelâ€™s first films is Viva la
muerte! (â€œLong Live Death!â€ 1971), by the Spanish playwright Fernando Arrabal. A Spanish boy fantasizes his
fatherâ€™s torture at the hands of the Church and the army.
The boy is also obsessed with his mother, whom he imagines bathing in the blood of a slaughtered bull. Arrabalâ€™s
cheerfully perverse fantasies put the film in the modernist
tradition, and he savors gruesome imagery. A shot of the
father being tortured is rendered peculiarly beautiful
through tinting (Color Plate 23.4). Traces of the Surrealist
impulse are also evident in Alejandro Jodorowky grotesque El Topo (â€œThe Mole,â€ 1971) and his mystical The
Holy Mountain (1973).
Less indebted to Surrealism in the use of fantasy was
Pier Paolo Pasolini. Hawks and Sparrows (1965) initiated
his interest in contemporary political parables, but his subsequent work in this vein was more scathing. Teorema
(1968) shows a blankly handsome young man taken in by
a bourgeois family; one by one, their lives are changed in
ways at once sordid and miraculous. Pigpen (1969) sets
side by side two stories about perverse appetites: a young
mountain climber becomes a cannibal, and an industrialist is eaten by pigs. In these films, Pasoliniâ€™s technique has
a BuÃ±uelian detachment, throwing into relief the absurd
spectacle of a disintegrating society.
Political modernist filmmakers also employed a stylized presentation of history and myth. Instead of portraying a past event neutrally, or simply retelling a myth,
the radical filmmaker might treat it through nonrealistic
techniques and then draw analogies with contemporary
political struggles. For example, Yoshishige Yoshidaâ€™s
Ceremonies (aka The Ceremony, 1971) is likewise fairly traditional in its treatment of the familiar Oshima theme of
how society frustrates young peopleâ€™s sexual drives. The
story plots the political and erotic intrigues within a family
ruled by a rapacious father. Oshimaâ€™s insistence that
exploitation, incest, and guilt pervade the Japanese
extended family forms a critique of the serene domestic
life presented in Ozuâ€™s work.
Stylistic Trends of Political Modernismâ€‚The works of
Godard and Oshima are central cases, but they do not
exhaust all the tendencies within political modernism.
There were at least four other trends: collage construction,
fantasy and parable, a stylized presentation of myth and
history, and minimalism.
An exemplary modernist strategy, collage construction
has origins in Cubist painting. Broadly, the collage film
joins bits of footage that are not intrinsically related.
Instead of making the linkage seem natural or unnoticeable, as in Hollywoodâ€™s use of stock footage, the modernist filmmaker emphasizes the disparities among the
images or sounds, forcing the viewer to make an imaginative leap. We have already seen this strategy used for
poetic effect in Joseph Cornellâ€™s Rose Hobart (ca. 1936),
Chris Markerâ€™s Letter from Siberia (1957), and Bruce Connerâ€™s short films; but in the late 1960s, many filmmakers
exploited it for political critique.
Radical filmmakers working with fictional narrative
typically employ the collage principle in a more linear
fashion. Such films set up a story and then elaborate on it
with footage drawn from other realms. Brecht and
Dudowâ€™s Kuhle Wampe pioneered this approach in a mild
way, and we have already seen it in Makavejevâ€™s films
(p. 417). Very similar to WR: Mysteries of the Organism is
Vilgot SjÃ¶manâ€™s I am Curious (Yellow) (1967) and I Am
Curious (Blue) (1967). SjÃ¶manâ€™s story of a young woman
seeking sexual liberation is treated in Direct Cinema terms
(with a good deal of reflexivity), but it is interrupted by
titles and cutaways (23.49, 23.50).
23.49, 23.50 Through editing,
Martin Luther King, Jr., seems to be
looking at Lena, heroine of I Am Curious
Political Filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds 513
and dance spontaneously, and, although the events are
set around 1948, the students wear the sport shirts and
blue jeans of the sixties.
JancsÃ³ created political allegories fusing past, present, and future events. Agnus Dei (1970) shows the 1919
Hungarian revolution in the countryside, concentrating on
an epileptic priest and a mysterious officer who may represent the Fascism that will overtake Europe. JancsÃ³â€™s subsequent films extend his examination of power to the
entire history of the West. Attilaâ€™s murder of his brother
(Technique and Rite, 1971), the plot against Julius Caesar
(Rome Wants Another Caesar, 1973), and Elektraâ€™s legendary struggle with Aegisthos (Electra, My Love, 1974)
become ritualized dialogues and ceremonial encounters,
rendered in elaborate choreography and long takes. (Electra, My Love is composed of only thirteen shots.)
Red Psalm (1971), for many critics JancsÃ³â€™s masterpiece, balances these generalizing tendencies with national
elements and more idiosyncratic symbolism. Although no
actual event or period is designated, the story portrays a
struggle of Hungarian peasants against landowners and
soldiers. Followed by a zooming, panning, and tracking
camera, victims and oppressors float through an abstract,
expanding and contracting space (23.51â€“23.56). Beginning with a peasant woman holding a dove and ending
with the same woman brandishing a rifle, Red Psalm
trilogyâ€”Eros + Massacre (1969), Heroic Purgatory
(1970), and Martial Law (1973)â€”uses decentered
framing and stylized lighting to show how Japanese
activism in different eras parallels that of the late 1960s
Similarly, Pasolini consistently teased a political critique out of his adaptations of classical myths and contemporary history. In Medea (1969), among masked choristers
and pink rocks, the classical heroine embodies the conflict between colonization and the people it dominates.
Pasoliniâ€™s last film, SalÃ², or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975),
stages the final days of Italian Fascism as a spectacle out
of the Marquis de Sade. Here Pasoliniâ€™s technique of pasticchio (â€œmixingâ€; p. 405) frames mutilation and sexual
assault in classical compositions and sets them to the
music of Carl Orffâ€™s Carmina Burana.
In the wake of 1968, Hungarian MiklÃ³s JancsÃ³â€™s
treatment of history also became more defiantly unrealistic. The Confrontation (1969) centers on left-wing
debates in Hungary during the immediate postwar
period. As usual, JancsÃ³ concentrates on group dynamics. Activists ransack a university library, bully other
students, argue with their opponents, and purge a
leader on orders from the party. JancsÃ³â€™s sinuous camera movements and very long takes are now accompanied by a more stylized mise-en-scÃ¨ne. Characters sing
23.51 One phase of one shot in Red
Psalm: from a woman with a dove . . .
23.56 . . . and entice him into a dance
23.52 . . . the camera pans left to a
soldierâ€™s pistol . . . (Red Psalm).
23.53 . . . before glimpsing a balladeer
drifting into the background (Red Psalm).
23.54 The camera follows him to a
group of peasants . . . (Red Psalm).
23.55 . . . who surround the soldier
. . . (Red Psalm).
514 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
with Angelopoulosâ€™s long-shot framings, yield a dry antiillusionism consistent with early 1970s interpretations of
The spareness of Angelopoulosâ€™s technique relates
him to another trend of post-1968 political modernism.
Some filmmakers pursued a strategy of minimalismâ€”
sparse narratives rendered in a rigorous, ascetic style.
Outstanding examples are found in the work of Chantal
Akerman, one of the most influential women directors of
the era. Akermanâ€™s minimalism derived less from European
sources than from encounters with Warholâ€™s work
(pp. 455â€“458) and North American Structural cinema (see
Chapter 24). Je, tu, il, elle (1974) was a stripped-down
narrative of sexual encounters rendered in long takes. Her
most influential film was Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du
commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975; the title gives the main
characterâ€™s name and address in Brussels).
Over 225 minutes, Akerman presents three days in
the life of a housewife who works as a prostitute in her
home. The filmâ€™s first half presents Jeanneâ€™s life in a style
as meticulous as her housekeeping. The low-height camera, centered down a corridor or across a kitchen table,
records her dressing, washing dishes, greeting a customer,
and making a meatloaf. After one clientâ€™s visit, however,
Jeanneâ€™s routine mysteriously breaks down and she starts
to make errors. Finally, she stabs a client and goes to sit at
the dining tableâ€”virtually the only time we see her relax.
Jeanne Dielman is a landmark in feminist modernism.
By slowing plot action to a standstill, Akerman obliges the
viewer to look at the empty intervals and domestic spaces
that mainstream cinema skips over. In one sense, Jeanne
Dielman moves toward fulfilling Neorealist Cesare
draws on revolutionary symbols. When someone is killed,
the victim may return to life, now wearing a red flower.
Red Psalm becomes a pageant that restages the revolutionary tradition in the light both of Brecht and of art-cinema
A stylized treatment of history and myth was also
explored by the Greek director Theo Angelopoulos. Influenced by Mizoguchi, Antonioni, and Dreyer, Angelopoulos began his career under the dictatorship of the Greek
generals in the late 1960s. His first feature, Reconstruction
(1970), displayed a by-then conventional reshuffling of
present and past, as flashbacks interrupt the investigation
of a murder. But the cryptic dialogue, which supplies little
information about character relations, and the cameraâ€™s
dwelling on still compositions and landscapes (23.57)
make the film seem dedramatized even by art-cinema
Like the early JancsÃ³, Angelopoulos plumbed his
nationâ€™s history for political lessons for the present.
Despite censorship under the military regime, Days of â€™36
(1972), a film about the murder of a militant union leader,
shows how the government protected the assassin. The
result, shot in long takes and 360-degree panning movements, became an allegory of political repression.
Under the same regime, Angelopoulos produced The
Traveling Players (1975), a four-hour panorama of Greek
political strife between 1939 and 1952. Over the years, a
theater troupe performs the same play, a mythical piece
that comments upon the changing political situation. As
he did in Reconstruction, Angelopoulos rearranges the
time sequence, but now he blends historical periods within
a single shot. The soliloquies and performances, along
23.57 Bus passengers stop to relieve themselves in
23.58 Moving through history and staging a classic play in
small towns, the traveling players become the conscience of
Greek culture (The Traveling Players).
Political Filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds 515
past; even spaghetti Westerns became more partisan (for
example, Sergio Leoneâ€™s Duck, You Sucker!, 1972). In
Sweden, Bo Widerberg made Adalen 31 (1969), a study of
labor strife. In Japan, the â€œpink filmsâ€ of Koji Wakamitsu
became frenzied studies of sexual repression and terrorism.
The British Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971) inserted male
homosexuality into a domestic melodrama.
Political Genresâ€‚The most commercially successful integration of left-wing politics and classical narrative cinema
took place in the genre of the political thriller. Here a plot
would be built around the investigation of an actual government scandal, mentioned by name or thinly disguised.
The political thriller offered the excitement of a detective
film and the shock of an exposÃ©. The inclusion of major
stars also ensured a filmâ€™s wide circulation.
The political thriller had been pioneered by Francesco
Rosi in Salvatore Giuliano (1961), and he continued to
exploit it in The Mattei Affair (1972), Lucky Luciano
(1974), and Exquisite Corpses (1975). Rosiâ€™s films intercut
the inquiry with key events in the past while drawing upon
documentary techniques, such as newsreel footage, dates,
and explanatory captions (23.60). Although the genre was
almost exclusively male territory, Nadine Trintignantâ€™s
DÃ©fense de savoir (â€œRight to Know,â€ 1973) was a comparable study of collusion between police and the extreme
right. The most famous exponent of the political thriller
was Costa-Gavras. A Greek who became a French citizen,
Costa-Gavras started as a director of thrillers (The
Sleeping Car Murder, 1965) before he made Z (1969), one
of the most widely seen political films of the era.
â€œAny similarity to actual events, or persons living or
dead, is not coincidental. It is intentional.â€ Signed by CostaGavras and scriptwriter Jorge SemprÃºn, the opening title of
Z announces a political agenda. The film retells the events
surrounding the assassination of a popular opponent of the
Zavattiniâ€™s dream of recording eight hours in a personâ€™s
life; the film could even be considered an expansion of the
sequence of the maidâ€™s awakening in Umberto D. (p. 327).
But Akerman treats domestic space as harboring sexual
repression and financial exploitation. Housekeeping is
womanâ€™s work, as is prostitution (as Jeanneâ€™s address on
â€œCommerce Pierâ€ indicates).
Akermanâ€™s minimalist style recalls Bresson, Ozu,
Mizoguchi, and experimental cinema, but she uses spare
technique for purposes of political critique. The static
camera and the rectilinear, low-height compositions
estrange the viewer from the action while dignifying
household chores as aesthetically and socially significant
Despite the diversity within political modernism, the
mid-1970s saw the trend drop off, at least in 35mm
filmmaking. Although the exploration of myth and history
continued, the collage form and surrealist fantasy virtually
vanished. Minimalism was adapted to less formally radical
ends. As left-wing positions became assimilated into mainstream politics, radical production groups were difficult to
sustain. Oshima disbanded his company Sozosha in 1973, a
year after the end of Godard and Gorinâ€™s Dziga-Vertov
Group. The scandals surrounding Makavejevâ€™s Sweet Movie
(1974) and Oshimaâ€™s In the Realm of the Senses (1975) were
triggered by their sexual content, not modernist technique
or political stance. Godard announced his return to more
accessible narrative in Sauve qui peut (la vie) (â€œSave what
you can [of your life],â€ aka Every Man for Himself, 1979).
By the end of the 1970s, most political modernists were
making less radical, and less radically experimental, works.
The Politicization of Mainstream Narrative and the Art
Filmâ€ƒDuring the 1960s and 1970s, mainstream European
and Asian cinema became politicized to some degree. In
Italy, directors were more willing to investigate the Fascist
23.59 Jeanne Dielman: household routine made unfamiliar
through use of static long takes.
23.60 Pseudo-documentary touches in The Mattei Affair.
516 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
dictatorial Greek colonels. The investigating magistrate, a
political moderate, exposes the right-wing conspiracy, but
then he falls victim too. By 1969, many New Cinema
techniquesâ€”glimpsed flashbacks, slow motion, freezeframes, handheld shots (23.61)â€”had become easily understood, and Costa-Gavras used them to create suspense and
rapid-fire action. The presence of the star Yves Montand
helped Z gain international recognition.
Costa-Gavras then made The Confession (1970), a
recreation of a political purge in postwar Czechoslovakia;
State of Siege (1973), an attack on American attempts to
oust the Tupamaro guerrillas of Uruguay; and Special
Section (1975), an exposÃ© of French collaboration with the
Germans during World War II. The films rested upon a
body of research, but critics from all political persuasions
faulted the action-packed intrigues and the schematic hero/
villain characterizations. Costa-Gavras replied that only by
working within mainstream entertainment could he bring
information to a broad audience. He refused the slow pace
and intellectual demands of political modernism:
The general public is not sufficiently trained to reflect upon
a film while it is being projected. They have become accustomed to the rapid pace of American cinema, and I have to
confess that I feel closer to this rhythm too. Itâ€™s only after the
film that the spectator can truly reflect upon it. Or reject it.21
For several decades, Costa-Gavras remained the dean of
the political thriller (Missing, 1982; Betrayed, 1988; Music
Box, 1989; and Le Capital, 2012).
Other genres became political vehicles. Louis Malleâ€™s
period drama Lacombe Lucien (France, 1974) shows a
young peasant seduced by Fascist politics, while in the
more elliptical Pascal Duarte (Spain, 1975) Ricardo
Franco traces how an equally violent youth becomes a
rebel during the Spanish civil war. Comedy also assimilated left-wing themes. In France, Diane Kurys made the
highly popular Diabolo Menthe (1977), an affectionate
portrait of post-1968 youth, following it two years later
with Cocktail Molotov, set in the days of May. Political subjects were taken up in Italian comedies as well, most
famously in Lina Wertmullerâ€™s The Seduction of Mimi
(1972), Love and Anarchy (1973), and Swept Away (1974).
Seven Beauties (1976) offers a critique of Italian male
pride, showing how a cocky hustler must humble himself
to survive in a Nazi prison camp (23.62).
Marco Ferreriâ€™s grotesque comedies offer a more
deadpan, enigmatic attitude. Dillinger Is Dead (1969)
builds enormous suspense as it observes a businessman
coming home late, preparing a meal, watching home movies, and murdering his wife. In this masculine version of
Akermanâ€™s Jeanne Dielman, the minute depiction of the
husbandâ€™s habits reveals the pettiness of his business
ethos (23.63). In Ferreriâ€™s La Grande bouffe (â€œThe Big
23.61 A handheld shot follows the dissident to his
assassination in Z.
23.62 Seven Beauties: the street hustler forced to bargain for
his comforts in a prison camp.
23.63 In Dillinger Is Dead, the husband takes a fantasy swim
â€œinsideâ€ a movie.
Political Filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds 517
Blowout,â€ 1973), a batch of businessmen literally kill
themselves through gorging and fornication.
Politicizing the Art Filmâ€‚Along with such mainstream
filmmakers, directors working within the art cinema were
affected by the climate of the era. Avoiding the extremes
of Brechtian alienation and stylization, many established
directors nevertheless continued the tradition of postwar
modernism while incorporating political material. Carlos
Saura, for instance, had already made The Hunt (1965),
an attack on the machismo ethos in Spain. The Garden of
Delights (1970) took a more BuÃ±uelian slant, showing a
perverse ruling class living between fantasy and reality
In If . . . (1968), Lindsay Anderson intensified the critique of British society that had driven the Kitchen Sink
films (p. 407). An upper-middle-class boysâ€™ school
becomes a microcosm of social revolution as four radical
students rebel against repressive officials. If . . . adopts
Godardian techniques by introducing major segments
with intertitles; its alternation of color and black-andwhite film stock (done to economize) becomes a mildly
Brechtian distancing device. The final scene, in which the
boys fire from a roof into a crowd, refers to the ending of
Jean Vigoâ€™s anarchistic Zero for Conduct (p. 254). With its
fantasy sequence and concluding freeze-frame, If . . .
invoked conventions of the contemporary art cinema.
Postwar European films had used strongly demarcated flashbacks to compare past and present; Hiroshima
mon amour had made the time shifts more rapid and
ambiguous; directors of the 1960s had pushed the technique to fragmented extremes. In the 1970s, the flashback
continued to be a tool for exploring political change across
history. Hungarian Istvan SzabÃ³ employed the device to
chronicle the lives of people in an apartment building
in 25 Firemanâ€™s Street (1973). Through a rhythmic
alternation of eras, AndrÃ© TÃ©chinÃ©â€™s Souvenirs dâ€™en France
(â€œMemories of France,â€ 1974) chronicles the effects of
labor struggles on a family over several decades. Karoly
Makkâ€™s Love (Hungary, 1970) uses swift montage and
abrupt flashbacks to contrast the lives of two women waiting for the return of a political prisoner.
Bernardo Bertolucci, always in touch with contemporary trends, employed flashbacks in more innovative ways
in The Spiderâ€™s Stratagem (1970). Here characters look
exactly the same â€œnowâ€ as they did thirty years before,
and from the past they speak to someone in the present
(23.65). Bertolucciâ€™s The Conformist (1971) is perhaps
the exemplification of the politicized art film. It presents
a precise play among memory, fantasy, and reality in its
portrayal of a sexually repressed man driven to become a
Fascist political assassin. A simpler flashback structure
frames 1900 (1975), a sweeping fresco of the rise of Fascism presented through the parallel lives of two friends,
one a leftist peasant and the other a weak-willed son of
Directors of the postwar generation reflected on the
new era in distinct ways. Federico Felliniâ€™s Satyricon
(1969) was widely interpreted as his sour commentary on
current social decline, and in Amarcord (1973) he produced a half-nostalgic, half-mocking portrayal of Fascist
spectacle. A colossal steamship holds the villagers spellbound, and a gigantic head of Mussolini looms frowning
over a parade (see Color Plate 19.2). Michelangelo Antonioniâ€™s Zabriskie Point (1970) made common cause with
student revolution through a hallucinatory love-in at
Death Valley and a series of shots detailing the
23.64 The imaginary life of the upper class, attacked in
The Garden of Delights.
23.65 The Spiderâ€™s Stratagem: standing in the past, Draifa
tells the young Athos in the present about his father (the man
at the window in the background); the technique serves the
thematic purpose of questioning the need for sanctified
518 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
slow-motion explosion of an American home. The Passenger (aka Profession: Reporter, 1975) shifted to the Third
World, where Antonioniâ€™s characteristic questions about
identity are played out in a political intrigue involving
The Swiss director Alain Tanner declared himself also
stirred by the May events, and throughout the ensuing
decade his films reflected upon the legacies of 1968. With
Michel Soutter, Claude Goretta, and others, Tanner
founded the Groupe Cinq (â€œGroup 5â€) in 1968 in order to
make films for Swiss television. Tannerâ€™s early features,
influenced by British Free Cinema and the Nouvelle
Vague, lay firmly in the European art-cinema tradition,
using reflexivity (Charles mort ou vif [â€œCharles Dead or
Alive,â€ 1969]) and the flashback structure (The Salamander, 1971). Thereafter he specialized in wistful studies of
how the absence of radical change blocked personal relationships. His most famous film was Jonah, Who Will Be
25 in the Year 2000 (1976). Here eight â€œchildren of Mayâ€
(Max, Marco, Marguerite, Madeline, and so on) form
a commune in the era of dashed hopes and political
â€œnormalization.â€ Black-and-white images represent their
utopian desires, and Tanner ends the film with an ambivalent image of the future (23.66).
If Tanner focuses on middle-class characters longing
for change, the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani concentrate on the revolutionary aspirations of the peasantry
and the working class. The Tavianis undertook a populist
retelling of Italian revolutionary history in Subversives
(1967), Under the Sign of Scorpio (1968), St. Michael Had
a Cock (1971), and Allonsanfan (1974). Their first international success was Padre padrone (â€œFather-Boss,â€ 1977),
the story of an illiterate shepherd boy who becomes a
scholar of linguistics through an obstinate revolt against
his father. The film begins with the author of the original
autobiography whittling a branch as he introduces the
tale. He then hands the stick to the actor playing the father
(23.67), who enters the schoolroom to fetch his son, and
the fictional story begins. Apart from introducing a Brechtian distance, the scene suggests that the son, now grown,
realizes that harsh authority is necessary if youth is to
A New Prominence for Female Directorsâ€‚Attention to
womenâ€™s concerns gave a new impetus to the careers of
female art-cinema directors. The Hungarian MÃ¡rta
MÃ©szÃ¡ros had made several short films during the 1960s.
Her first feature, The Girl (1968), was followed by several others, notably Riddance (1973), Adoption (1975),
and Nine Months (1976). MÃ©szÃ¡rosâ€™s work balances a
consideration of womenâ€™s relation to social forces, particularly class structure, with a probing of intimate relationships. Taken together, her films dramatize a vast
range of feminine experience, from school, dating, and
marriage to work, childbirth, and family life. She particularly explores mother-daughter relationships. Her style
emphasizes realism and authorial commentary, both
inflected by close-ups of her heroinesâ€™ bodies; in Adoption, she builds an entire sequence out of womenâ€™s hands
at work in a factory.
AgnÃ¨s Varda had been directing since the 1950s,
though her fame came only with the rise of the Nouvelle
Vague (p. 403). She was active in the cinematic left,
making a short on the Black Panthers and contributing
to the collective film Far from Vietnam (1967). After
Lions Love (1969), a relaxed celebration of the American
counterculture, Varda made several short films before
her next feature, One Sings, the Other Doesnâ€™t (1976).
Like many political films of the mid-1970s, it takes stock
of the previous decadeâ€”here, by tracing the course of
23.66 In an epilogue set in the future, Jonah scribbles
on the communeâ€™s mural (Jonah, Who Will Be 25 in the Year
23.67 Padre padrone: the stick is transferred.
Political Filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds 519
two womenâ€™s friendship from 1962 to 1974. Wanting to
focus attention on abortion and childbearing as seen
from her liberal feminist viewpoint, Varda deliberately
aimed One Sings at a wide audience. â€œIn France, our film
has already been seen by 350,000 people. . . . If the
meaning of the film and its feminist point of view is even
half or two-thirds as strong as that of a more radical film,
at least weâ€™ve gotten a lot of people thinking, and not in
the wrong direction.â€22
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw new women
directors emerge within the art cinema. In France, Nelly
Kaplan, who had been Abel Ganceâ€™s assistant since
1954, made her first feature. The Pirateâ€™s FiancÃ©e (aka A
Very Curious Girl, 1969) shows a young village woman
exploited by the local men until she begins blackmailing
them with tape recordings of intimate secrets. Liliane
de Kermadecâ€™s AloÃ¯se (1974) launched the career of
Isabelle Huppert, who plays a woman imprisoned for
opposing World War I. Several French actresses took up
directing, notably Diane Kurys, Anna Karina, and
Jeanne Moreau. In Canada, the experimental filmmaker
Joyce Wieland made the reflexive melodrama The Far
Shore (1976). Some filmmakers focused on particular
feminist issues, while others dealt with subjects of
broader political concern, including the â€œpolitics of
On the whole, mainstream cinema and art cinema
adapted to the political culture of the post-1968 era.
Classical narrative conventions assimilated engaged
themes and subject matter, especially in the political
thriller and the comedy. Art-cinema directors who
retreated from the extreme experimentation of political
modernism nevertheless took micropolitics and the
culture of dissent to be fruitful subjects. Tanner, calling
himself â€œmarginalâ€ within commercial filmmaking,
spoke for many: â€œMy position is not to be as radical as
Godard, but to try to force the commercial world to open
their doors to outside experiences.â€23 As radical political
modernism left the realm of 35mm commercial filmmaking in the late 1970s, most politicized fictional filmmaking in the Western world worked within the bounds of
classical or art-cinema narrative. Political modernism
survived longer in the experimental 16mm sector (see
New Cinema in West Germany: The Political Wing
The â€œNew German Cinema,â€ a phrase coined in the early
1970s, denotes an even more amorphous group than most
new cinemas. The label covers filmmakers pursuing very
different agendas. Several directors did not practice critical
political cinema (see Chapter 26). But those who took up
left-wing filmmaking vividly illustrate the trends of the late
1960s and after.
The Oberhausen manifesto of 1962 stimulated some
socially critical filmmaking, particularly for television,
but not until 1968 did left-wing students at Berlinâ€™s
Institute of Film and Television launch a series of
engaged documentaries and fiction films aimed at
working-class audiences. More ambitious were the films
of the â€œBerlin School,â€ which echoed the German
proletarian films of the late 1920s (p. 272) in their focus
on working-class life. Rejecting the idealized realism of
the Berlin School, the feminist Helga Reidemeister concentrated on documenting the domestic life of the working class, notably in The Purchased Dream (1977), a
compilation from four hours of super-8mm material that
a family had shot.
Political Modernism: Kluge, Syberberg, and Straub/Huillet
Political modernism was also a strong force in the New
German Cinema. The 1968 upheavals and their political
culture strengthened the Brechtian documentary drama
practiced by playwrights Peter Weiss and Rolf Hochhuth.
In film, political modernists continued the social critique
implicit in much Young German Film of the early 1960s,
but they gave it a more radical edge in response to the rise
of the counterculture and the New Left.
Alexander Kluge, a moving force in the Young
German Film (pp. 409â€“410) exemplifies the collage trend
in political modernism. By intercutting fiction, documentary, written titles, and other material, his films continued
the strategies of Yesterday Girl (1966), confronting the
spectator with gaps â€œin which fantasy can take root.â€ â€œThe
film is composed in the head of the spectator; it is not a
work of art that exists on the screen by itself.â€24 Kluge
hoped that this countercultural openness would permit
the film to become less a preplanned message than the
basis of an ongoing dialogue between filmmaker and
Artists under the Big Top: Perplexed (1968) was a reaction to the radical students at the Berlin Film Festival
who pelted Kluge with eggs and charged him with elitism. The story of Leni Peickertâ€™s attempt to create a new
kind of circus is interrupted by news photos, newsreels,
shots from Eisensteinâ€™s October, color footage, and references to current ideas that only through a â€œwork of
mourningâ€ could Germany come to terms with its Nazi
past. The circus of Leniâ€™s imagination (23.68) never
comes to pass, and she winds up working as a television
producer. In its open-textured way, Artists under the
Big Top stresses the difficulty of utopian political
change and suggests that only a â€œlong march through the
520 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
institutionsâ€â€”here, existing media conditionsâ€”will lead
to social change.
The alternation of documentary and fiction within
Klugeâ€™s films takes place in a more theatrical fashion in
the work of Hans-JÃ¼rgen Syberberg. Syberberg came to
notice with a series of Direct Cinema documentaries in
the late 1960s, but his most famous films are the trilogy
Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King (1972), Karl May
(1974), and the eight-hour Hitler: A Film from Germany
(1977). The spirit of Brecht, whom Syberberg has called
his â€œfoster father,â€ mingles with a Wagnerian giganticism
in the first and last of these works. Swirling smoke, vast
auras of colored light, and mournful music enfold monumental tableaux representing the twilight of German culture (23.69). The Hitler filmâ€™s reflexivity, with references
running from Thomas Edison and Leni Riefenstahl to
Citizen Kane, makes it a history of the cinema in which
Hitler, turning politics into mythical drama, becomes â€œthe
greatest filmmaker of all time.â€
Probably the most controversial practitioners of
political modernism in the New German Cinema were
Jean-Marie Straub and DaniÃ¨le Huillet. After Not Reconciled (1965; p. 410), they made the feature-length The
Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (1968). In one sense,
it employs the collage aesthetic, assembling documents
from Johan Sebastian Bachâ€™s era, staged scenes, and
authentic performances. It is also a remarkable effort in
minimalism. Straub and Huillet present undramatic,
fragmentary episodes from Bachâ€™s life and use static
shots or a slightly moving camera to record sustained
performances, never showing the audience (23.70). As
in Not Reconciled and later works, they use only direct
sound, thereby capturing the specific auditory character
of each locale. From one perspective, the film resembles
Artists under the Big Top in being a â€œmaterialistâ€ study of
artistic labor, with Straub and Huillet suggesting that
Bachâ€™s music arose in part from particular social and
The combination of collage construction, direct
sound, and ascetic treatment of narrative returns in History Lessons (1972), an adaptation of a Brecht novel, and
the empty landscapes of Fortini/Cani (1977). Straub and
Huillet also explore minimalist ways of adapting theater
pieces: Othon (1969) uses the handheld camera to present
a classical French play staged in contemporary Rome,
while the opera Moses and Aaron (1974) is played out in a
desert arena with stylized arrangements of solo singers
and chorus (23.71). Opposed to all forms of entertainment cinema, Straub and Huilletâ€™s films interrogate
artistic tradition, probing classic novels and plays for
23.68 Artists under the Big Top: Perplexed: a circus acrobat
pirouettes on Leniâ€™s head, thanks to Klugeâ€™s framing.
23.69 The phantasmagoric blend of cinema, music, and
German history (Hitler: A Film from Germany; production still).
23.70 Impersonally rendered musical performance in The
Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach.
Political Filmmaking in the First and Second Worlds 521
contemporary political implications. (The Chronicle
of Anna Magdalena Bach is dedicated to the people of
Vietnam; Moses and Aaron, to a terrorist.)
Mainstream Politicized Cinemaâ€‚The more commercially successful New German films adapted political
commentary to the conventions of mainstream cinema.
The most prominent genres were the Arbeiterfilm
(â€œworker filmâ€), which used realistic storytelling technique to portray the life of the contemporary working
class, and the Heimatfilm (â€œhomeland filmâ€), which
focused on rural life.
Among the many directors working within the art
cinema, Volker SchlÃ¶ndorff stands out. His 1970 The
Sudden Wealth of the Poor People of Kombach draws on
mildly Brechtian techniques to trace the capture and execution of a gang of peasant bandits. SchlÃ¶ndorff attracted
international attention by codirecting The Lost Honor of
Katherina Blum (1975) with his wife, Margarethe von
Trotta. The film shows a woman accused of aiding a terrorist and hounded by the police and the scandalmongering press. Throughout most of the film, the viewer is led
to believe Katherina is an innocent victim. Once she has
gained the viewerâ€™s sympathy, the plot reveals that love
led her to help the young man. Classical storytelling
strategies coax the audience to sympathize with a
After another film with SchlÃ¶ndorff, von Trotta began
directing on her own. The Second Awakening of Christa
Klages (1977) pursues the narrative strategy of Katherina
Blum by aligning the audience with a feminist robber on
the run. In a period when terrorism, plane hijackings, and
assassinations created headlines, such a focus on a criminal woman had a vivid political impact.
Von Trottaâ€™s career exemplifies the extent to which
West Germanyâ€™s production subsidy system enabled
women directors to work in numbers unparalleled in other
nations. Many of them produced politically inflected art
films. For example, Helma Sanders-Brahmsâ€™s Violence
(1971) is an â€œanti-road movie,â€ alternating static road
maps with a tale of how two assembly-line workers kill an
immigrant. In an Arbeiterfilm, The Employee (1972),
Sanders-Brahms traces a computer programmerâ€™s descent
into madness, while her Last Days of Gomorrah (1974)
shows a future society in which television gratifies all
Fassbinder: The Provocateurâ€‚Rainer Werner
Fassbinder was perhaps the best-known director of the
New German Cinema, partly due to his aggressive personality and self-destructive lifestyle. He was influenced
by the French New Wave and the political modernism
that intensified in the late 1960s. Beginning as an actor,
playwright, and theater director, Fassbinder revealed a
taste for grotesque comedy, splashy violence, and strong
realism of charactersâ€™ regional dialects. Yet he rejected
the Brechtian theory favored by Kluge, Straub, and others. He insisted that politically critical art had to engage
the spectatorâ€™s feelings. â€œWith Brecht you see the emotions and you reflect upon them as you witness them
but you never feel them. . . . I let the audience feel and
After his early, strongly Godardian short The Little
Chaos (1966), Fassbinder made eleven films with the
Antiteater, a troupe of actors and technicians. Some of
the films recast Hollywood genres, while others show
the influence of the Nouvelle Vague and Straub and
Huillet. Fassbinder then acquainted himself with
Douglas Sirkâ€™s Hollywood melodramas (p. 307), which
he took as a model of a socially critical cinema that was
also emotionally engaging. He was struck by the implausibly upbeat endings (he called them â€œunhappy happy
endsâ€) and by the way that Sirk blocked full identification with the characters. With The Merchant of Four
Seasons (1971) Fassbinder initiated a second phase in
his work, that of domestic melodramas. Once more he
proved highly prolific, using rapid shooting schedules
and low budgets to turn out several features, notably
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), Fear Eats the
Soul (1973), Effie Briest (1974), and Fox and His
Early in his career Fassbinder often framed figures in
a sober, mug-shot fashion (23.72). In his Hollywoodrevisionist phase, he chose unusual angles and striking
color schemes. His reliance on continuity editing kept the
drama paramount, yet he dwelled on gazes, distant views,
and statuesque character poses. The Bitter Tears of Petra
von Kant takes place entirely in the overstuffed apartment
of a fashion designer, and like Sirk, Fassbinder uses
strongly accented dÃ©cor to comment on his charactersâ€™
relationships (Color Plate 23.5).
23.71 Moses and
backed by an
522 CHAPTER 23â€ƒPolitically Critical Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s
The early Antiteater films experiment with narrative, while the later political melodramas are gripping,
emotion-laden stories aimed at a broader public. Most of
Fassbinderâ€™s films are about power. He often focuses on
victimization and conformity, showing how members of a
group exploit and punish outsiders. Fassbinder insists that
the victim often accepts the standards the group applies,
so he or she comes to believe that the punishment is
deserved. Ali in Fear Eats the Soul literally internalizes the
racial prejudice he suffers, collapsing from an ulcerâ€”a
common illness of immigrant workers.
Coming after the failures of 1968, Fassbinderâ€™s work
is often interpreted as acknowledging the impossibility of
radical change. No Brechtian aesthetic could promise a
social revolution. The movement of Fassbinderâ€™s career
from anarchistic and severe political modernism to works
that use the less disturbing conventions of Hollywood and
the art cinema reflects a general trend within European
critical political cinema during the 1970s.
The same change is conveniently summarized in two
European films from the beginning and the end of the
period. In 1967, thirteen left-wing directors, mostly
French, collaborated on Far from Vietnam. The film sought
to mobilize intellectuals against the war by a series of
episodesâ€”some fictional (e.g., Resnaisâ€™s), some compiled
from newsreel footage (e.g., Markerâ€™s), one essayistic
(Godardâ€™s; 23.73). In 1978, fourteen German directors,
coordinated by Kluge, made Germany in Autumn. Like Far
from Vietnam, it brings together disparate tendencies
within current filmmaking. But now the hope is not to
change international policy; the goal is to understand
national life in a climate of terrorism and right-wing
oppression. Certain episodes, particularly Fassbinderâ€™s
drug-hazed confrontation with his lover, dramatize the
extent to which the political had become personal (23.74).
Germany in Autumn exemplifies the turn from broad activism toward a micropolitics, while indicating that critical
filmmaking remained central to the 1970s political culture
1. See H. Stuart Hughes, Sophisticated Rebels: The Political
Culture of European Dissent, 1968â€“1987 (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), pp. 3â€“14.
2. Quoted in Aruna Vasudev, The New Indian Cinema
(Delhi: Macmillan, 1986), p. 29.
3. Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (Peking:
Foreign Languages Press, 1967), p. 82.
4. Quoted in Jean Franco, â€œSouth of Your Border,â€ in Sohnya
Sayres et al., eds., The 60s without Apology (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. 324.
5. Manuel Puig, â€œCinema and the Novel,â€ in John King,
ed., On Modern Latin American Fiction (New York:
Noonday, 1987), p. 283. See also Puigâ€™s novel Betrayed
by Rita Hayworth, trans. Suzanne Jill Levine (New York:
6. Quoted in Julianne Burton, â€œRevolutionary Cuban
Cinema, First Part: Introduction,â€ Jump Cut 19 (1978): 18.
7. â€œFilm Makers and the Popular Government: Political
Manifesto,â€ in Michael Chanan, ed., Chilean Cinema
(London: British Film Institute, 1974), p. 84.
8. Quoted in Sylvie Pierre, Glauber Rocha (Paris: Cahiers
du CinÃ©ma, 1987), p. 180.
23.72 Katzelmacher (1969): loafing couples, shot in a flat,
in Autumn: the
23.73 Far from
director as laconic
17. Quoted in Sylvia Harvey, May â€™68 and Film Culture
(London: British Film Institute, 1978), p. 123.
18. Quoted in Colin J. Westerbeck, Jr., â€œSome Out-Takes
from Radical Film-Making: Emile De Antonio,â€ Sight
and Sound 39, no. 3 (summer 1970): 143.
19. Quoted in Abraham Segal, â€œGodard et le groupe
Dziga-Vertov,â€ Lâ€™Avant-scÃ¨ne du cinÃ©ma 171â€“172 (Julyâ€“
September 1976), p. 50.
20. See Nagisa Oshima, â€œÃ€ propos La Pendaison,â€ in Ã‰crits
1956â€“1978 (Paris: Gallimard, 1980), p. 188.
21. Quoted in John J. Michalczyk, Costa-Gavras: The
Political Fiction Film (Philadelphia: Art Alliance Press,
1984), p. 46.
22. Ruth McCormick, â€œOne Sings, the Other Doesnâ€™t:
An Interview with AgnÃ¨s Varda,â€ Cineaste 8, no. 3
23. Quoted in Jim Leach, A Possible Cinema: The Films of
Alain Tanner (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1989),
24. Quoted in Stuart Liebman, â€œWhy Kluge?â€ October 46
(fall 1988): 13â€“14.
25. Quoted in John Sandford, The New German Cinema
(London: Eyre Methuen, 1980), p. 102.
9. Jorge SanjinÃ©s and the Ukamau Group, Theory and
Practice of a Cinema with the People, trans. Richard
Schaaf (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone, 1989), p. 43.
10. Quoted in Noureddine Ghali, â€œAn Interview with
Sembene Ousmane,â€ in John D. H. Downing, ed., Film
and Politics in the Third World (New York: Autonomedia,
1987), p. 46.
11. Abid Med Hondo, â€œThe Cinema of Exile,â€ in ibid., p. 71.
12. Quoted in TomÃ¡Å¡ Mottl, â€œInterview with Jan NemeÄ‡,â€ in
The Banned and the Beautiful: A Survey of Czech
Filmmaking, 1963â€“1990 (New York: Public Theatre,
15 Juneâ€“5 July 1990), p. 46.
13. Vera ChytilovÃ¡, â€œI Want to Work,â€ Index on Censorship 5,
no. 2 (summer 1976): 17â€“20.
14. Mihailo MarcoviÄ‡, quoted in Gale Stokes, ed., From
Stalinism to Pluralism: A Documentary History of Eastern
Europe since 1945 (New York: Oxford University Press,
1991), p. 120.
15. Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the
Cinema, trans. Kitty Hunter-Blair (London: Faber,
1989), p. 110.
16. Quoted in AlomÃ©e Planel, 40 Ans de festival: Cannes, le
cinÃ©ma en fÃªte (Paris: Londreys, 1987), p. 142.
DOCUMENTARY AND EXPERIMENTAL
FILM SINCE THE LATE 1960s
Documentary filmmakers were deeply involved in the political activism
that emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s. In Western Europe and the
United States, left-wing documentarists offered social and political critique,
often from the standpoints of feminists, ethnic minorities, and gay and lesbian groups. During the 1980s and 1990s, revolutions, government repression, and the collapse of the Soviet Union created urgent reasons for
recording and reporting events as they unfolded. More recently, documentarists have been galvanized by environmental degradation, continuing racial
strife in the United States, and repressive regimes in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
Yet not all documentarists pursued political projects. The Direct Cinema
impulse to capture real events with minimal interference (pp. 435â€“441) continued, but filmmakers blended its techniques with more traditional methods.
The result was a new, fairly standard documentary format that could be
applied to any subject. At the other extreme, some documentarists began
questioning the very possibility of adequately recording reality. More distant
alternatives to Direct Cinema, including animated documentaries, became
important. Whatever the message or technical basis, filmmakersâ€™ work
reached broader audiences through theatrical release, festival play, cable
television, and Internet access.
Some experimental filmmakers also embraced social criticism, but in
general much avant-garde cinema turned inward, toward a reflexive, formcentered movement known as Structural Film. For many observers, this was
the logical culmination of experimental cinemaâ€™s history. Eventually, reactions against Structural Film led to other options, particularly narrativebased experiments. And just as documentarists had to embrace the
emerging video format, avant-gardists were faced with either staying with
film-based cinema or finding new expressive possibilities in analog and
Documentary Cinema 525
Direct Cinema and Its Legacy
Direct Cinema became the most powerful force in documentary. The veterans David and Albert Maysles made
one of the most important American cinÃ©ma-vÃ©ritÃ© films,
Salesman (1969), a dogged chronicle of a Bible salesman
begging and bullying prospective customers. For Allan
Kingâ€™s A Married Couple (Canada, 1969), the director and
crew lived with a Toronto family and shot over seventy
hours of film; unexpectedly, the filmmakers documented
the marriageâ€™s disintegration.
Direct Cinema found wide audiences in the emerging
genre of rockumentaries. With the success of Don Pennebakerâ€™s Bob Dylan film Donâ€™t Look Back (1966) and
Monterey Pop (1968), filmmakers realized that lightweight
cameras and direct sound recording made it possible to
shoot appealing films quickly and comparatively cheaply.
Woodstock (1970) and Let It Be (1970) were records of
single, memorable events, while other films were structured around tours. Both tendencies met in the most
provocative instance of the genre, Gimme Shelter (1970).
The Maysles brothers intercut a Rolling Stones tour with a
single concert in which the camera records a Hellâ€™s Angel
fatally stabbing a member of the audience. The whole
action is framed by scenes of the brothers reviewing the
footage while Mick Jagger looks on (24.1).
Mercilessly parodied in This Is Spinal Tap (1984), the
rockumentary proved to be the most theatrically successful documentary genre. Aimed at young moviegoers, it
offered performances and sound quality unavailable on
broadcast television. By the time Jonathan Demme made
Stop Making Sense (1984), the concert had become secondary to the filming; David Byrne storyboarded the
Talking Headsâ€™ performance for the shooting. Finnish fiction filmmaker Aki KaurismÃ¤ki pushed the rockumentary
to its absurdist limit, scheduling the Leningrad Cowboys
(â€œthe worst rock â€˜nâ€™ roll band in the worldâ€) alongside the
prestigious Soviet Red Army Ensemble in a concert filmed
as Total Balalaika Show (1993).
Some filmmakers questioned Direct Cinemaâ€™s claim
to capture reality without manipulation. David Holzmanâ€™s
Diary (1967) appears to be an actual record, but it is completely fictional. Director Jim McBride seeks to show that
the fly-on-the-wall technique is no guarantee of truth.
Similarly, Shirley Clarkeâ€™s Portrait of Jason (1967) at first
seems an instance of pure Direct Cinema. Clarke records
long monologues of a black homosexual prostitute, and, in
the manner of Jean Rouch, she hovers offscreen asking
Jason increasingly probing questions. But Clarke also criticizes Direct Cinemaâ€™s selectivity and invisible editing by
keeping to a single camera position, using long takes, and
acknowledging shot changes by letting the screen lose
focus. Thus Portrait of Jason resembles the work of Warhol
(p. 455): an exhibitionistic performer is berated by others
(here, his friends offscreen) and collapses in psychic pain
William Greavesâ€™s Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One
(1969â€“1971) probed the spontaneity of Direct Cinema
techniques through layers of presentation. In New Yorkâ€™s
Central Park, a camera crew shoots actors testing for a
24.1 In an echo of Vertovâ€™s Man with a Movie Camera, Gimme
Shelter incorporates its process of production into its action:
Mick Jagger scans footage from the Altamont concert.
24.2 Assailed by his friends for â€œacting,â€ Jason breaks down
(Portrait of Jason).
526 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
The observational tradition of Direct Cinema was sustained by Franceâ€™s Raymond Depardon. Beginning at age
eighteen as a photojournalist, he quickly combined still
FREDERICK WISEMAN AND THE TRADITION OF DIRECT CINEMA
In the spring of 1966, a middle-aged lawyer produced and
directed a film about conditions at a Massachusetts hospital for the mentally ill. He filmed everyday activities as well
as a show put on by the patients. The result, titled Titicut
Follies after the patientsâ€™ name for their show, was
released in 1967 and set off a storm of protest. Since that
directorial debut, controversy pursued Frederick Wiseman
through over forty feature-length documentaries. In the
process, his work has become emblematic of Direct
The Drew unit concentrated upon situations of high
drama, and the Rouch-Morin approach to cinÃ©ma vÃ©ritÃ©
emphasized interpersonal relations (see Chapter 21).
Wiseman pursued another path, focusing on the mundane affairs of social institutions. His titles are indicative:
Hospital (1970), Juvenile Court (1972), Welfare (1975),
Racetrack (1985), Zoo (1993), Public Housing (1997), State
Legislature (2006), and National Gallery (2014). Law and
Order (1969) records police routine, while The Store
(1983) moves behind the scenes of a Dallas department
Wiseman typically does not follow individuals facing
a crisis or solving a problem. He assembles a film out of
slices of day-to-day life in a business or government
agency. Each sequence is usually a short encounter that
plays out a struggle or expresses the participantsâ€™
emotional state. Then Wiseman moves to another situation and other participants. He has called this a â€œmosaicâ€
structure, the result of assembling tiny pieces into a picture of an institution. Using no narrator, Wiseman creates
implications by making shrewd juxtapositions between
sequences. The meaning, he insists, is in the whole.
His first films reflect a conception of institutions as
machines for social control. He declared himself interested
in â€œthe way power is exercised and decisions rationalized.â€1
Wiseman records the frustrations of ordinary people facing
a bureaucracy, and he captures the insular complacency
of those in authority. In his most famous film, High School
(1968), secondary education becomes a confrontation
between bewildered students and oppressive or obtuse
teachers: schooling as control and conformity.
In his later work, Wiseman claimed to take a more
flexible and open-minded approach reminiscent of Richard
Leacockâ€™s â€œuncontrolled cinemaâ€ (p. 436).
You start off with a little bromide or stereotype about how
prison guards are supposed to behave or what cops are
really like. You find that they donâ€™t match up to that image,
that theyâ€™re a lot more complicated. And the point of each
film is to make that discovery.2
24.3 Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One: Using split screen,
Greaves can show the same action from three standpoints,
yielding different effects.
fictionalized documentary, while a second crew shoots the
first crew filming. A third crew is assigned to film either
crew, as well as anything else that catches their interest
(24.3). Greavesâ€™s constant interruption of the rehearsals
leads to quarrels about what he should emphasize.
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One suggests that in documentaries the very choice of camera position colors our
sense of the reality being captured.
McBride, Clarke, and Greaves were exceptional in
criticizing Direct Cinema and standardized uses of the
approach continued. The form proved well adapted to
capturing the filmmakerâ€™s personal experiences. Kazuo
Haraâ€™s My Intimate Eros: Love Song 1974 (Japan, 1974)
records the filmmakerâ€™s obsessive search for the woman
who has left him. In Best Boy (1979), Ira Wohl traces how
his cousin, a middle-aged man with a learning disability,
leaves his family to enter a hospital.
Other directors found in Direct Cinema an ability
to capture the immediate texture of social and political
processes. From the late 1960s into the 2010s, Frederick
Wisemanâ€™s output of Direct Cinema documentaries
provided pure examples of the approach (see box).
Documentary Cinema 527
Later films trace the struggles of disabled people in
therapy and rehabilitation. Near Death (1989) exposes the
day-to-day decisions of medical staff in an intensive care
unit, and their exercise of professional compassion shows
that institutions need not be uncaring.
This concern for complexity, plus decades of support
from the Public Broadcasting System, led Wiseman to
expand his mosaics to vast proportions. Canal Zone (1977)
runs almost three hours, and Belfast, Maine (1999), a portrait of a community, lasts about six. It is as if his search for
comprehensiveness and nuance forced Wiseman to
amass more and more evidence, searching for all sides of
Wiseman carries on the Leacock tradition of fly-onthe-wall observation. The camera operator and the recordist (Wiseman himself) efface themselves (24.4). The
filmmakers ask no questions and hope that the subjects
never look into the lens. Wiseman creates classical continuity through eyeline matches, cutaways, and sound overlaps (24.5, 24.6). We seem to be on the scene, invisible
observers of mundane social encounters.
Surprisingly, Wiseman insisted that his documentaries
were subjective creations, â€œreality fictionsâ€ expressing
highly personal judgments. Yet many critics and filmmakers believed that by effacing his presence and voice, the
films fostered a belief that documentary yielded hard
24.4 A traineeâ€™s family admires his rifle during a visit to boot
camp (Basic Training, 1971). As in a fiction film, the participants
seem oblivious to the presence of the filmmakers.
24.5 Near Death: As a staff member reads the report
(â€œOperation is futile. 100 per cent mortalityâ€), Wiseman cuts
from a full shot. . . .
24.6 . . . to a close-up of a doctor listening. This and other
close views of the staffâ€™s reactions were not taken at that
moment in the womanâ€™s reading, but the sound is unbroken.
The conventional editing and the ongoing soundtrack create
the impression of continuous time (Near Death).
nuggets of fact. Wisemanâ€™s consummate use of Direct
Cinema became a target for filmmakers who saw
documentary as creating an illusory knowledge of reality.
528 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
Marches On (1987) follows a Japanese veteran who insists
that the emperor take the blame for war crimes. Tracking
down witnesses, the veteran invades their homes (24.8).
Claude Lanzmannâ€™s Shoah (1985), a nearly nine-hour
study of the Nazisâ€™ extermination of the Polish Jews,
recalls Alain Resnaisâ€™s Night and Fog (p. 433) in studying
bland contemporary landscapes that were the sites of
unspeakable cruelty (24.9). Here, however, no stock footage takes us into the past; Lanzmann presents only what
he called â€œtraces of traces,â€ interviews with witnesses,
Jewish survivors, and former Nazis (24.10). In the provocateur tradition of Edgar Morin and Chris Marker,
Lanzmann is present throughout, guiding, goading, and
challenging his subjects.
Synthesizing Documentary Techniques
Shoah, Wisemanâ€™s films, and most of the others mentioned earlier are quite pure instances of Direct Cinema.
Each is built principally out of the filmmaker-recordistâ€™s
immediate confrontation with a concrete situation.
photography with filmmaking. His first feature, Reporters
(1981), surveys the routines of press photographers like
himself. Like Wiseman, Depardon explored social roles
and institutions; his handheld camera follows neighborhood policemen in Faits divers (â€œNews Items,â€ 1983) and
studies psychiatric patients in Urgences (â€œEmergencies,â€
1987). Also like Wiseman, Depardon avoids talking heads
and scene-setting montages, preferring to plunge the
viewer directly into a situation. But Depardon occasionally includes his own voice-over commentary, and DÃ©lits
flagrants (â€œMisdemeanors,â€ 1994) experiments with more
overt artifice: the camera is fixed to a tripod, framing
police interrogations of suspects in dry profile compositions (24.7).
While Wiseman and Depardon adhered to the
American tradition of Direct Cinema, effacing the presence of the filmmaker, other directors adopted the RouchMorin model of provocation (p. 438). Field Diary (1982),
by the Israeli director Amos Gitai, begins with a very long
take as the filmmakers move through a town in the Gaza
Strip and try to interview its Palestinian mayor. They continually confront Israeli soldiers, who cover the lens and
demand identity papers from the sound recordist (Color
Plate 24.1). Kazuo Haraâ€™s The Emperorâ€™s Naked Army
24.7 After a four-minute shot of questioning, a female prisoner
is handcuffed and led out of the office (DÃ©lits flagrants).
24.9, left The extermination camp at
Belzic, seen today (Shoah).
24.10, right Dr. Franz Grassler, former
Nazi officer: â€œWe at the Commission
tried to maintain the ghetto for its labor
24.8 The Emperorâ€™s Naked Army Marches On: the vengeful
veteran assaults another ex-soldier when he refuses to
acknowledge his role in wartime atrocities.
Documentary Cinema 529
Lenny Without Tears (1972), The Times of Harvey Milk
(1984), Letâ€™s Get Lost (1988), and similar portrait documentaries. Other filmmakers began to use the synthetic
format to record lengthy processes. The makers of So That
You Can Live (UK, 1981) revisited a Welsh family over
five years, and the film chronicles not only the maturing
of the family members but also the growing sensitivity of
the filmmakers. The most staggering long-term project
was Michael Aptedâ€™s Up series (UK, 1964â€“2012), which
interviewed the same group of people at ages 7, 14, 21,
and onward. Over the decades, the installments stress the
ways in which social class shaped the subjectsâ€™ lives. Filmmakers in other countries imitated Aptedâ€™s longitudinal
The synthetic approach became the default for most
documentaries tracing a historical process, since the filmmakers could juxtapose archival footage with present-day
testimony. In The Sorrow and the Pity (1970), Marcel
OphÃ¼ls (son of Max OphÃ¼ls) examined the Nazi Occupation of France and brought to light a history that many
French preferred to hide behind heroic Resistance legends. Newsreels portray citizens acquiescing comfortably
to their German masters and turning a blind eye to the
Likewise, by putting â€œtalking headsâ€ into context,
filmmakers constructed oral histories of social movements
in Union Maids (1976) and With Babies and Banners
(1978). The Wobblies (1979) traces the history of a leftwing party, while Before Stonewall (1984) does the same
for gay culture and activism in the United States. Other
filmmakers used the synthetic approach to report on
contemporary political struggles: nuclear power accidents
(We Are the Guinea Pigs, 1980), civil wars in Latin America
(When the Mountains Tremble, 1983), and apartheid (We
Are the Elephant, South Africa, 1987).
Usually no narrator or nondiegetic music guides the audienceâ€™s attention. The standard documentary format of the
1970s, however, was less stringent. It blended Direct Cinema interviews (often including an offscreen questioner),
scenes shot on the fly (often without direct sound), and
compilation footage, the whole glued together by music
and commentary (often voice-over from participants in
the situation). Emile De Antonioâ€™s In the Year of the Pig
(1969; p. 508) pioneered this synthetic format, which
prevailed well into the 2000s.
A famous example is Barbara Koppleâ€™s Harlan County
USA (1976). Chronicling a thirteen-month strike of
Kentucky coal miners, much of the film is in the Direct
Cinema vein. The camera crew records the strikersâ€™ changing tactics, with particular attention given to the wives, who
block the entry of scab workers. The film has as much
drama as any crisis-structure film from the Drew unitâ€”
quarrels among the strikers, thugs firing at picketers, and a
confrontation between the women and the strikebreakers
Kopple frames the immediate drama, however, with
background history concerning struggles in the mining
industry. She draws upon archival footage and interviews
with older citizens. And Kopple, a former member of
Newsreel (p. 506), suggests broader points in the manner
of De Antonio. There is no voice-over commentator, but
superimposed titles supply basic information; regional folk
music comments sympathetically on the action; and editing patterns make points in a manner that Leacock would
find judgmental (24.12, 24.13). The result has the immediacy of Direct Cinema but supplies historical context and
leaves no doubt about the filmmakerâ€™s sympathies.
The synthesis of Direct Cinema material, archival
footage, titles, and music proved especially apt for examining controversial figures of the recent past, as in Lenny
24.11 Harlan County USA: in a moment
worthy of the Drew unit, the cameraman
and sound recordist follow a sheriff
reluctantly serving a warrant on a
24.12 Archival footage used to create
Soviet-style montage: a newsreel shot of
soldiers moving in to break a strike in
the 1930s . . . (Harlan County USA).
24.13 . . . gives way to a shot of
present-day police arriving to clear the
roads, matched in frame position and
direction of movement (Harlan County
530 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
This called into question the idea that cinema could
directly record any reality.
Questioning Documentary Actuality
Political modernism, as practiced by Jean-Luc Godard,
Nagisa Oshima, Jean-Marie Straub, DaniÃ¨le Huillet, and
others (Chapter 23), set many documentary filmmakers
to thinking about their own aims. Throughout film history,
and particularly since the advent of Direct Cinema,
documentarists claimed to offer immediate access to
reality. If the Brechtiansâ€™ critique of â€œtransparentâ€ and
â€œillusionistâ€ filmmaking (p. 509) was right, though, documentary could appear even more manipulative than the
Hollywood fiction film. Perhaps documentary only seemed
to capture reality.
The problem was not just the filmmakerâ€™s bias. Many
documentarists had acknowledged their own preconceptions, and directors such as Georges Franju and Chris
Marker had made it integral to their essayistic films
(pp. 433â€“434). What came to the fore now was the idea
that perhaps the very forms and techniques of documentary were invisible conventions, no more inherently valid
than the conventions of fictional narratives.
Most documentaries presented themselves as descriptions or stories; yet these forms carried a persuasive
effect, asking the audience to accept a tacit social or political perspective. Most documentaries used voice-over
commentary, but why grant that voice such authority?
Documentaries showed archival footage or on-the-spot
interviews, but what gave these images any power to penetrate reality, to present not only isolated facts but also deeper
The Meta-Documentaryâ€ƒThis line of thought was most
explicitly posed by film theorists and critics (see â€œNotes and
Queriesâ€ online), but it was not merely academic. Documentaries became more reflexive, turning a critical eye on
documentary tradition itself.
A rudimentary instance is The Atomic Cafe (1982,
Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader, and Pierce Rafferty). This
compilation film reviews the history of the testing and
deployment of nuclear weapons by the United States, from
Hiroshima to the mid-1960s. In the De Antonio vein,
commentary is reduced simply to subtitles identifying
place, time, and occasionally sources of the footage. But
much of the footage does not function as a transparent
record of events. Since the shots come from educational
and propaganda films, Atomic Cafe dwells on the ways in
which the staged scenes spread naive ideas of nuclear war
(24.15). The film implies that the publicâ€™s acceptance of
The synthetic format proved useful as well for filmmakers oriented toward social criticism. They could follow
Newsreel and De Antonio in using individual testimony
captured in interviews to challenge media images. In
The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980)â€”a study of
women who worked in the defense industry during World
War IIâ€”company films about plant safety are undercut by
womenâ€™s accounts of accidents on the job. Common
Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989, Robert Epstein and
Jeffrey Friedman) juxtaposes media coverage of AIDS
with the personal stories of five people afflicted with the
disease. The interviews in Bonnie Sherr Kleinâ€™s Not a Love
Story (Canada, 1981), a study of pornography, move along
a spectrum of opinions, ending with an attack upon erotic
advertising (24.14). In Ava DuVernayâ€™s 13th (2016) interviews and statistics are mobilized to counter widespread
opinions on African American imprisonment in the
A parallel challenge to media images emerged as
right-wing political documentaries adopted the synthetic
format. Conservative activist Dinesh Dâ€™Souza sought to
puncture liberal ideology in 2016: Obamaâ€™s America
(2012) and Hillaryâ€™s America: The Secret History of the
Democratic Party (2016). Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
(2008), an anti-evolution argument, and Godâ€™s Not Dead
(2014) were in a similarly skeptical vein.
By the end of the 1960s, the pure forms of Direct
Cinema represented by Rouch, the Maysles, and Wiseman
were overtaken by the synthetic format. The typical documentary mixed on-the-spot recording of events with staged
scenes, interviews, and archival footage, all focused on
creating a strong impression of trustworthiness. This, the
film seemed to say, is what really happened. At the same
time, however, an opposing trend was gathering force.
24.14 Advertising imagery tapping pornographic appeals
(Not a Love Story).
Documentary Cinema 531
of Ceylon (1935), made for John Griersonâ€™s GPO Film Unit
(p. 277), Jayamanne questions how Western documentary
traditions represent nonwestern societies.
Another strategy of meta-documentary involved making a film about the impossibility of making the film originally intended. One of the earliest instances was Marcel
Hanounâ€™s Octobre Ã Madrid (â€œOctober in Madrid,â€ France,
1964); later ones were Michael Rubboâ€™s Waiting for Fidel
(Canada, 1974) and Jill Godmilowâ€™s Far from Poland
(United States, 1984). Another reflexive documentary
centered on an aborted project is Hellmuth Costardâ€™s A
Little Godard to the Production Board for Young German
Cinema (West Germany, 1978). The film begins with the
director laboriously filling out an application for funding.
The account of his (failed) application is intercut with a
visit to Hamburg by Jean-Luc Godard, also failing to get
backing for a film.
Cold War policies was strengthened by the conventions of
The reflexive film might go further and scrutinize its
own use of documentary conventions. Raul Ruizâ€™s Of
Great Events and Ordinary People (France, 1978) takes its
title from John Griersonâ€™s remark: â€œWe wait for the cinema to give us an event, a great event which can show us
ordinary people.â€ Yet, in this film, events and people are
visible only through the distorting lenses of the media.
â€œWhat I am calling the everyday,â€ remarks Ruiz the narrator, â€œis a parody of TV documentary.â€ Ruiz mocks news
broadcasts, Markerâ€™s Le Joli mai, and the talking-heads
convention. Titles announce what we will see, promising
â€œstock footageâ€ and â€œshots which block the viewâ€ (24.16).
The filmâ€™s ostensible subjectâ€”political attitudes in a Paris
neighborhood before an electionâ€”is all but lost in tangents
and rambling anecdotes. Of Great Events and Ordinary People delights in a digressive reflexivity that shows how
much of reality the traditional documentary must ignore.
Chris Marker, an old hand at reflexivity and the essayistic form, contributed to the new meta-documentary with
Sans Soleil (Sun Less, 1982). A whimsical examination of
the byways of Japanese city life is set against glimpses of
other nations, while a womanâ€™s voice reads extracts from a
manâ€™s letter about visiting a foreign country. Like Markerâ€™s
Letter from Siberia, Sans Soleil questions current documentary clichÃ©s (â€œglobal culture,â€ â€œthe rise of Asiaâ€) while
also interrogating assumptions of ethnographic cinema.
Other filmmakers cast doubt on ethnographic efforts
to analyze distant cultures. Trinh T. Minh-Haâ€™s Reassemblage (1982) presents village life in Senegal in ways that
refuse to transmit standard forms of anthropological knowledge (24.17). Laleen Jayamanneâ€™s Song of Ceylon (1985)
presents tableaux of Western leisure activities and courting
rituals, accompanied by an anthropological description of a
Sri Lankan exorcism (24.18). Invoking Basil Wrightâ€™s Song
24.16 In Ruizâ€™s Of Great Events and
Ordinary People, an unidentified looker
reminds us of the convention of over-theshoulder views.
24.17 Decentered framings and jerky
editing accentuate the â€œinvisibleâ€
conventions of the ethnographic film
24.15 A cold war film uses animation
to cure a pessimistic citizen of â€œnuclear
blindnessâ€ (The Atomic Cafe).
24.18 Song of Ceylon: as in Maya Derenâ€™s Ritual in
Transfigured Time (see 21.40), Jayamanne presents stylized
images of social rituals. Unlike Deren, however, she criticizes
ethnographic discourse by means of a dramatized soundtrack.
532 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Asia, and other regions.
Filmmakers, especially in the Third World, took advantage of newfound access to equipment, even in amateur
formats, to record those events. Suddenly the urgent truth
value of the footage they captured seemed beyond debate.
In 1986, when rioting toppled the regime of Ferdinand
Marcos and ushered in a democratic government in the
Philippines, Nick Deocampo filmed shorts such as Revolutions Happen Like Refrains in a Song (1987) in the streets
on super-8mm film.
Filmmakers in the disintegrating Soviet bloc seized
upon documentary as a way of exposing decades of
oppression and lies. For twelve years, Russian filmmaker
Nikita Mikhalkov began filming his six-year-old daughterâ€™s
answers to such questions as â€œWhat do you want most?â€
Repeating the questions annually as she grew, he completed Anna: 6â€“18 in 1993, having captured a simple
reflection of the countryâ€™s momentous changes.
In Eastern Europe, the Polish Filmmakers Association sponsored Workers 80 (1980), a record of the
Solidarity labor movement that launched a democratic
government. In Hungary, a strong documentary movement emerged, exemplified in such films as Pretty Girls
(1980), an exposÃ© of how the Miss Hungary pageant led
women into prostitution. Most strikingly, under Mikhail
Gorbachevâ€™s policy of glasnost (â€œopennessâ€), Soviet filmmakers began to make stinging documentaries about history and contemporary life. Films about the Chernobyl
nuclear disaster, about the grip of Stalinism on everyday
life, and about scandals in the military and the bureaucracy poured forth. Marina Goldovskayaâ€™s Solovki Regime
(1988) shows how a monastery was used as a Stalinist
prison camp. Juris Pokniekâ€™s Is It Easy to Be Young? (1987)
mixes rough Direct Cinema techniques with provocative,
Rouch-like interviews in tracing teenagers from their attendance at a 1985 rock concert to their participation in the
Soviet war in Afghanistan.
Similarly, the Chinese governmentâ€™s massacre of
pro-democracy student protesters in Tiananmen Square in
Beijing in 1989 led to important documentaries. In 1991,
Shi Jian and Chen Jue released an eight-part video series
called Tiananmen Square, attempting to capture the life of
the country at the time of the protest movement. In 1995,
an American-made documentary, The Gate of Heavenly
Peace (Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon), stirred controversy by questioning the motives and decisions of the
Chinese student leaders as well as those of the government
officials. Into the 2000s, Chinese filmmakers continued to
capture the wrenching changes of rapid industrialization.
Filmmakers all over the world sought to uncover injustices past and present. A Wall of Silence (1994) documented
Such meta-documentaries of the 1970s and 1980s
used reflexivity to explore the idea that any documentary
carries a large freight of artificeâ€”in its conventions, its
appeal to ideology, and its reliance on the tricks of fictional filmmaking. Some documentarists began to doubt
whether film could ever truthfully represent the world.
Demystifying the Documentaryâ€ƒMore commonly, as in
The Atomic Cafe and A Little Godard, a meta-documentary
does not question the power of all documentary filmmaking; it seeks only to demystify certain forms or production
processes. This moderate position has precedents in films
that used reflexivity to convey points that ordinary documentaries miss. In Man with a Movie Camera, for instance,
Dziga Vertov shows people filming, editing, and watching
the film we see; but this is in order to assert a new claim
about reality, that all labor is harmoniously integrated into
Soviet life (p. 114). Mario Ruspoliâ€™s Regard sur la folie
(p. 439) and Shirley Clarkeâ€™s Portrait of Jason make us
aware of the act of filming, but principally to assure us of
the actuality of the events portrayed.
One of the most celebrated examples of this moderately â€œmetaâ€ position is Errol Morrisâ€™s The Thin Blue Line
(1988). While revealing documentary artifice, Morris also
tries to uncover the truth about a murder case. As in the
synthetic format of the 1970s, there is no Voice of God
commentary, and interviews with participants mingle with
stock footage. Morrisâ€™s reflexivity poses the problem of
documentary reenactment by including highly artificial
restagings of the investigation, the police interrogation of
the suspect, and the murder itself (Color Plate 24.2). At
first, the reenactments may seem merely dramatic license,
but they change to accommodate new or contradictory
testimony. The film thus suggests that the original event
can be known only through distant, and biased, retellings.
Yet out of the lies, cover-ups, and conjectures a plausible case emergesâ€”plausible enough that the film helped
free a falsely convicted man. The Thin Blue Line grants
that personal bias, cultural predispositions, and cinematic
conventions often mislead us; but it also declares that the
documentarist can find a persuasive approximation to
truth. This is a more tentative position than that adopted
by Dziga Vertov, Robert Flaherty, or proponents of Direct
Cinema, but it does secure a place for documentary as a
legitimate means of probing reality.
Documenting Upheavals and Injustice
Western documentarists and theorists had the luxury to
muse on the truth of documentary in the 1970s and
1980s. Then political and social upheavals shook the
Documentary Cinema 533
seeks to find out whether, as newspapers reported,
bystanders ignored her screams. After popular politician
Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in Red Square, Russian filmmakers offered My Friend Boris Nemtsov (2017) and The
Man Who Was Too Free (2017) as indictments of their
Investigative documentaries were not always harsh
exposÃ©s. The crowd-pleasing Searching for Sugarman
(2012) reveals the whereabouts of a lost singer. Still, some
films changed history. After Blackfish (2013) revealed the
mistreatment of captive whales, an amusement park abandoned its breeding program. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) investigated the trial of
teenagers accused of brutally murdering three children.
Two sequels revisited the case and provided other explanations for the crime. The series helped exonerate the men
The development of consumer video allowed people
throughout the world to reveal social struggles. Filmmakers showed poor people living on garbage in Brazil (The
Scavengers, 1992) and child labor in the Philippines
(Children Only Once, 1996). Sisters in Law (2005) and Iron
Ladies of Liberia (2007) chronicled how African women
gained power in politics and law. Yellowing (2016)
recorded the 2014 Umbrella Movement, in which thousands of Hong Kong students occupied the streets to
demand electoral democracy. Because of government disapproval, the filmmakers could not get theaters to show
the film and had to resort to guerrilla screenings.
Amateur digital video made possible one of the most
epic efforts in the history of documentary. Somewhat in
the vein of Frederick Wiseman, Chinese filmmaker Wang
Bing embraced Direct Cinema methods to scrutinize ordinary peopleâ€™s responses to institutional pressures. His
nine-hour West of the Tracks (2003) begins by critically
surveying one districtâ€™s decaying factories and goes on to
follow the families who struggle to survive after the plants
close (24.20, 24.21). Wang went on to make many more
films, including a nearly four-hour study of men housed in
a mental institution (â€™Til Madness Do Us Part, 2013).
the search for mass graves of Jewish forced laborers during
World War II. Filmmakers revealed the oppression of
women in some Asian countries, as in Young-joo Byunâ€™s
trilogy (Murmuring, 1995; Habitual Sadness, 1997; and My
Own Breathing, 1999) based on the recollections of Korean
women forced into sexual slavery during World War II. Rithy
Panhâ€™s own childhood memories formed the basis of his
The Missing Picture (2013), in which painted figurines
enact Cambodian massacres (24.19).
The right-wing government of Augusto Pinochet in
Chile and its aftermath inspired numerous documentaries.
Patricio GuzmÃ¡n had documented the move toward the
coup dâ€™Ã©tat that toppled the liberal government of Salvador Allende in The Battle of Chile (1973â€“1978). Returning
from exile to Chile in the late 1990s, GuzmÃ¡n discovered
that the younger generation had little idea of their own
past and were shocked when he showed them his film. So
he documented the loss of a sense of history in Chile, The
Obstinate Memory (1997).
Documentaries sponsored by a government or industry tended to present arguments and settled conclusions,
but the activist tradition was predicated on asking questions. In many of the films just mentioned, investigation
provided the central plotline. Filmmakers sought to go
behind official stories and standard assumptions. In
Witness (2016), the brother of a New York murder victim
24.19 Rows of captured women are invoked through carved
figures (The Missing Picture).
24.20, left West of the Tracks:
workers press on through crumbling
24.21, right A son, distraught at
being unable to save his father from
arrest, collapses drunkenly (West of the
534 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
that was unlikely to be broadcast. Theatrical documentaries might feature raunchy standup comedy, high-end rock
concerts, or an occasional political controversy, as in
Hearts and Minds (1974), a controversial examination of
the Vietnam War. Another strategy was to offer visual and
audio quality that could not be matched on the home
screen. This was the thinking behind IMAX. Premiered at
Expo â€™70 in Osaka, IMAX offered ten times the image
area of an ordinary 35mm frame. By 2001, there was a
worldwide circuit of 183 IMAX auditoriums. The venues,
often museums, played documentaries about science and
nature, as well as occasional concert films. Eventually,
multiplex theatres added IMAX screens to offer big-format
versions of Hollywood blockbusters (see p. 664).
Even without IMAX, during the 1990s, documentaries became a more significant slice of US theatrical
releases. This was largely due to the rise of American independent cinema (Chapter 27), which created a cluster of
small companies and arthouse theaters. Documentaries
were cheaper to produce than fiction films, so independent distributors could earn money with nonfiction films
that offered something edgier than traditional television
fare. Soon HBO and other networks were commissioning
documentaries that could win acclaim in the theatrical
market before coming to cable.
Successful theatrical releases tended to fall into a few
genres. Sex or violence furnished common subject matter.
American Pimp (1999) interviews African American pimps
and the prostitutes they manage, while Capturing the
Friedmans (2003) shows a family collapsing under charges
of pedophilia. Kirby Dickâ€™s This Film Is Not Yet Rated
(2006) probes the US film ratings system for consistency
and openness, along the way interviewing filmmakers
The theatrical market proved increasingly hospitable
to documentaries with a social or political message. The
breakthrough was Roger & Me (1989), which established
Michael Moore as the most famous documentarist on the
American scene. (See box.) His Bowling for Columbine
(2002) took in nearly $60 million internationally, while
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) earned twice that.
Moore showed that a documentary could compete
with Hollywood blockbusters, even if it presented a controversial political position. As a result, distributors took
chances with polarizing films like Control Room (2004),
about the Qatar television station Al-Jazeera, and
Al Goreâ€™s warning about climate change, An Inconvenient
Truth (2006). The American invasion of Iraq in 2003
brought forth an enormous number of documentaries.
Independent documentarists could uncover aspects of
US policy that commercial television, constrained by
In such documentaries, the classic commitment to
recording life as lived, and as riddled with problems, was
reaffirmed. Similarly, The Act of Killing (2012) blended a
corrosive exposure of political oppression with a questioning of how people understand their actions. From 1965 to
1966, the Indonesian government dispatched death squads
to eliminate over a million farmers, union members, and
ethnic minorities. The current government maintains a
paramilitary force, and the older killers are esteemed
patriots. This history was not widely known to the outside
world, so filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer could have built
his film as an investigation of these monstrous crimes,
past and present.
Instead, in the tradition of Rouch/Morin provocation,
Oppenheimer asked the murderers to explain their deeds.
They do so by restaging their crimes in scenes recalling
the gangster films and musicals they admired in their
youth (24.22). Filmed in artificial sets and lighting, the
enthusiastic reenactments of torture and massacre become
deeply disturbing to us, to the actors who participate, and
to some of the killers themselves. The Act of Killing
becomes a record of both the menâ€™s crimes and their fantasies of power and identity: what Oppenheimer calls â€œa
documentary of the imagination.â€3
Theatrical Documentary in the Age of Video
and the Internet
As Chapter 8 indicated, the feature-length documentary
film achieved artistic stature and won theatrical releases
during the 1920s. The form largely went into eclipse in the
sound era, and from the 1950s onward, television sponsored the kinds of documentaries that traditionally would
have played in theaters. But as cable channels multiplied,
the demand for nonfiction films grew enormously.
As a result, any documentary shown in a commercial
theater had to offer something special, built on content
24.22 Torture and murder reenacted in film noir style in The
Act of Killing.
Documentary Cinema 535
FACTS, TRUTH, AND ATTITUDE: MICHAEL MOORE AND ERROL MORRIS
Michael Moore and Errol Morris came to prominence at
nearly the same time: Morrisâ€™s Thin Blue Line was released
in 1988; Mooreâ€™s Roger & Me was released in 1989. Both
men reaped the benefits of growing support for independent cinema, and their idiosyncratic films fitted the new
demands for personal visions. Both were interested in
ideas, but they also saw that to reach large audiences a
documentary needed a dramatic narrative driven by
clearly defined characters. Instead of filming gray-bearded
experts pontificating in front of bookshelves, they sought
out extreme situations and eccentric or sinister individuals.
The differences in their approach to this format defined
two poles of US documentary from the 1990s onward.
Moore became famous for his attacks on American
corporations and political policies, but he would not have
attracted so much attention if he had not made himself his
protagonist. In sneakers, baseball cap, and thick glasses,
Moore looked like a stereotypical Midwesterner. Each of
his films becomes his personal quest for truth, showing
irreverent humor and a dogged refusal to take no for an
answer. Roger & Me chronicles his efforts to ask Roger
Smith, the CEO of General Motors, why the Flint, Michigan,
plant was shut down. A notorious school massacre in Colorado led Moore to investigate Americansâ€™ attitude toward
guns in Bowling for Columbine (2002). Sicko (2007) pursues a comparison between health-care practices in the
United States and in other countries. Where to Invade
Next (2015) takes the filmmaker to countries that had dealt
with unemployment, immigration, and other social problems more effectively than the United States had. Moore
claimed that his films were not neutral reportage, but
something like newspaper editorialsâ€”strong opinions
backed up with evidence.
Mooreâ€™s biggest success was Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004).
Although Moore takes center stage in some sections,
President George W. Bush becomes the filmâ€™s main figure.
Moore portrays him as lazy, slow-witted, and devoted to
serving corporations and rich Saudis. According to Moore,
the President exploited the nationâ€™s grief after the 2001
Trade Tower attacks in order to launch a tragic war. Moore
widens his attack in the final sections of the film. Borrowing confrontational tactics from Direct Cinema, he
ambushes Senators on the street to ask if their children
will enlist in the armed forces (24.23). Mooreâ€™s earlier films
had been accused of distorting evidence, so for Fahrenheit
9/11 he detailed all his sources in a book and on his
The films make their points with bluntness and gonzo
humor. A bank gives out rifles when you open an account.
President Reagan visits a town suffering from plant closures and, during his speech at a restaurant, the cash register is stolen. Moore scores montage sequences to
sardonic melodies, as when â€œItâ€™s a Wonderful Worldâ€ plays
behind scenes of American military aggression, or
â€œCocaineâ€ is heard over footage referring to Bushâ€™s military
service. Fahrenheit 9/11 makes scathing use of behind-thescenes footage. Perhaps the most famous sequence in
Mooreâ€™s work is the one showing President Bush in a
schoolroom learning that the United States has been
attacked. On the soundtrack, Moore offers possible
thoughts: â€œWas he wondering if maybe he should have
shown up to work more often?â€ (24.24).
24.23 Fahrenheit 9/11: Michael Moore gives a Marine
enlistment brochure to a Senator and urges him to sign his
children up for the Iraq mission.
24.24 As the World Trade Center burns, President Bush shifts
uneasily in his chair and reads My Pet Goat to schoolchildren
536 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
Mooreâ€™s aggressive, opinionated films and bestselling books made him one of the most prominent figures
on the US political left. He was incessantly attacked in
print, in the blogosphere, and in other films. Yet he
remained close to his Midwest origins. During the 2016
presidential election, he predicted, against prevailing
opinion, that Donald Trump would win. Michael Moore in
TrumpLand (2016) recorded Mooreâ€™s one-man show asking Ohio Trump supporters to consider supporting Hillary
Errol Morris did not arouse so much controversy. He
did not put himself at the center of his movies, and he
tackled his subjects from a more cerebral angle. Before
The Thin Blue Line, Morris had made documentaries about
a pet cemetery (Gates of Heaven, 1981) and an eerie town
(Vernon, Florida, 1981). These established his willingness
to lace apparently neutral documentaries with mordant
humor. While The Thin Blue Line also has its light moments,
it concentrates on the difficulty of recovering a past event.
Instead of giving up the search for truth, however, Morris
shows that with effort, a film can present a plausible
account of events (p. 532).
Morris moved toward a string of portrait documentaries. Some explored the nature of genius and talent: a
study of physicist Steven Hawking (A Brief History of Time,
1991) and a subtle examination of three gifted eccentrics
(Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, 1997). These films give
sway to Morrisâ€™s love of the grotesque (24.25). Tabloid
(2010) dissected how the British press sensationalized
a court case in which a woman was accused of raping a
In less playful films, Morris showed how intelligent,
apparently rational people could pursue lethal courses of
action. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter,
Jr. (1999) studies a man bent on improving execution
equipment and convincing the world that, on engineering
grounds, the Holocaust could not have occurred. In The
Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert
S. McNamara (2003), Morris portrays the architect of
Americaâ€™s involvement in the Vietnam War. The brilliant
McNamara, who formulates ten â€œlessonsâ€ about global
conflict, reveals himself as oddly shortsighted, inclined,
like Fred Leuchter, to treat individuals as data sets and
design constraints. The Unknown Known (2013) interrogates another US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld,
who emerges as even less introspective, and utterly callous when confronted with evidence of torture. The conclusions about these men emerge slowly, not pounded
home by voice-over commentary in the manner of Moore.
Moore put himself center stage, but Morris remained
offscreen. He devised what he called the â€œinterrotron,â€ an
arrangement of cameras and mirrors that allowed his interviewees to look directly at him while seeming to look at
the camera. The result gives talking heads a disconcerting
Morrisâ€™s analytical approach dominates Standard
Operating Procedure (2008), which scrutinizes the activities of US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Morris
interviews the guards involved in â€œbreakingâ€ prisoners and
photographing them in humiliating poses. But Standard
Operating Procedure goes into meta-documentary territory to ask how we can arrive at truth on the basis of
24.26 Recalling how she was abruptly relieved of command at
Abu Ghraib, a Brigadier General asks: â€œYouâ€™re afraid to look
Janice Karpinski in the eye?â€ (Standard Operating Procedure).
24.25 A topiary gardener labors over a giraffe in Fast, Cheap,
and Out of Control.
FACTS, TRUTH, AND ATTITUDE: MICHAEL MOORE AND ERROL MORRIS, continued
Documentary Cinema 537
attempt to survive on a diet of Big Macs (Super Size
So strongly did documentaries perform in theaters
that uncontroversial topics that would once have been
confined to television found their way to multiplexes.
There were feature films about the love of literature (Stone
Reader, 2003), crossword puzzles (Wordplay, 2006), and
videogame competitions (King of Kong, 2007). Nature
documentaries like Winged Migration (2001), March of the
Penguins (2005), and Monkey Kingdom (2015) benefited
from big-screen presentation while offering familyoriented viewing. Likewise, breathless child-centered contests in Spellbound (2002) and Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)
provided the nonfiction equivalent of G-rated dramas. To
a degree not seen since the 1960s, documentary cinema,
in both friendly and confrontational forms, had returned
to mainstream movie culture.
Outside the theatrical market, documentary was
booming. Like garage bands cutting their own CDs, filmmakers could use the exploding DVD format to bypass
media gatekeepers. Nature and sports documentaries
filled bins at video stores. Political filmmakers could find
wide audiences through online disc sales. Robert Greenwaldâ€™s critiques of American corporate culture (Wal-Mart:
The High Cost of Low Price, 2005) had counterparts in
conservative attacks on the Clintons, Obama, and Michael
Moore (further proof of the political impact of his films).
This access to audiences continued in the 2010s when
independent documentaries, political or not, became
available on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vimeo, and other
streaming services. Soon enough, filmmakers were producing directly for the Internet. Barbara Koppleâ€™s This Is
Everything: Gigi Gorgeous (2017), about a transgendered
fashionista, was made for YouTube.
government policy, could not. Gunner Palace (2005)
recorded the troopsâ€™ daily lives, while The War Tapes
(2006) featured footage shot by soldiers themselves.
Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, political documentaries
from many positions found places in multiplexes and art
Distributors discovered that for a mass audience, a
strong central figure like Michael Moore yielded entertainment value. As a result, many of the most important theatrical documentaries of the 1990s and 2000s offered
portraits of vivid personalities. Hoop Dreams (1993) by
Peter Gilbert, Frederick Marx, and Steve James follows
the contrasting fortunes of two black Chicago teenagers
hoping for basketball careers. Terry Zwigoff blended interviews and candid footage in Crumb (1994), which centers
on the underground comic artist Robert Crumb and his
dysfunctional family. For American Movie (1999), Chris
Smith spent two years following the struggles of an
obsessive Wisconsin filmmaker to produce a horror film.
Werner Herzogâ€™s long career as a documentarist, paralleling his work in fiction films (p. 571), was built around
his own image. He came to personify the mystical filmmaker exploring unearthly beauty and superhuman endurance, traveling from the burning oil fields of Kuwait
(Lessons of Darkness, 1992) to the freezing Antarctic
(Encounters at the End of the World, 2007) and the worldâ€™s
oldest surviving paintings (Cave of Forgotten Dreams,
2010). Herzog turned his lens on extreme personalities as
well, such as the worldâ€™s greatest â€œski-flierâ€ in The Great
Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1974; Color Plate 24.3),
the bear-lover of Grizzly Man (2005), and the Vietnam-era
POW of Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997). Other filmmakers
turned the Herzog/Moore role of the inquiring filmmaker
to more mundane concerns, as in Morgan Spurlockâ€™s
images. In a book and a New York Times blog series, Morris asked how a photograph, a moment lifted from the fabric of life, can ever represent the truth of the situation.
â€œWhen you see a picture,â€ one soldier comments, â€œyou
never see outside the frame.â€
Morris argued: â€œThereâ€™s always an imposition of point
of view in anything. Thereâ€™s this crazy thinking that style
guarantees truth. You go out with a hand-held camera, use
available light, and somehow the truth emerges. . . . I call
attention to the fact that I have a point of view.â€4 Michael
Moore would have agreed. Both filmmakers sought to go
beyond Direct Cinema recording by acknowledging their
own concerns and commitments. Yet they also sought to
expose a reality that went beyond mere opinion. Moore
used a machete, while Morris used a scalpel. But both
sought to show that the detached observation of Direct
Cinema was not the only way that a documentary could
offer something approximating truth.
538 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
ground up and boiled into soup; faces in old prints stare
enigmatically as enraged puppets smash each other with
mallets. In Å vankmajerâ€™s first feature, Alice (1988), loosely
based on Lewis Carrollâ€™s Alice in Wonderland, the heroine
dips her finger into a jar only to find marmalade laced
with carpet tacks. Dimensions of Dialogue (1981) plays out
a repulsive metaphor for communication: heads made of
vegetables and tools devour each other and then vomit
each other out (Color Plate 24.5).
The underground tendency also flourished after the
late 1960s. Soon, however, the more commercially marketable elements of underground cinema obliterated its more
experimental aspects. Andy Warhol lent his name as producer to self-consciously camp features directed by Paul
Morrissey (Trash, 1970; Andy Warholâ€™s Frankenstein,
1973). Amplifying the Kuchar brothersâ€™ parodies of Hollywood melodrama, John Waters produced Pink Flamingos
(1972), Female Trouble (1974), and other low-budget films
reveling in bad taste and shock effects.
In a comparable vein were the early super-8mm
films of the Spaniard Pedro AlmodÃ³var, who moved
aboveground with a 16mm feature, Pepi, Luci, Bom and
Other Girls in the Neighborhood (1980). In the 1970s, the
underground film became a marketable genre. It became
the midnight movie or the cult film playing campus film
societies, and it provided Morrissey, Waters, AlmodÃ³var,
and other directors an entry to commercial features.
While the underground film went mainstream in the late
1960s, a more intellectual approach to experimentation
was taking shape. The American critic P. Adams Sitney
Probably the most important documentarist to gain
fame via the Web was Adam Curtis. His sprawling, intellectually complex documentaries were mostly made for
British television. He could not get licensing rights for the
hundreds of bits of footage he employed, so the films
could not be shown in theaters or distributed on DVD.
Instead, they were posted online soon after their TV
premieresâ€”at first by fans and then by the BBC.
Curtisâ€™s films were skeptical, sometimes frightening
meditations on how modern societies use power. He traced
the history of advertising (The Century of the Self, 2002),
the rise of Islamic terrorism and US neoconservatism (The
Power of Nightmares, 2004), the influence of game theory
on geopolitics (The Trap, 2007), and the centrality of Saudi
Arabia to international conflicts (Bitter Lake, 2015).
Deploying montage techniques reminiscent of Dziga
Vertov, Kuhle Wampe, and La Vie est Ã nous (pp. 111, 272,
262), filling the soundtrack with his urgent voice-over commentary, Curtis offered the audiovisual equivalent of a
densely researched book of history, laced with macabre
asides and ironic humor. Like Moore, Morris, Herzog, and
many others, he turned away from the neutrality of Direct
Cinema toward purely personal statement.
STRUCTURAL FILM AND AFTER
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, experimental filmmaking sustained its postwar renaissance. Established
experimental genres and styles continued. Stan Brakhage
continued with his wide-ranging efforts in film lyric, and
other filmmakers pursued that path as well. Film portraits
and diaries were still madeâ€”some, like Jonas Mekasâ€™s
autobiographical series, of mammoth length. The cut-out
animation of Larry Jordan recalled the Surrealist collages
of Max Ernst (Color Plate 24.4), and the Belgian artist
Marcel Broodthaers used Dadaist strategies to question
the institution of the museum and art history (24.27).
Perhaps the most innovative surrealist work was done
in Czechoslovakia by the animator Jan Å vankmajer.
Trained in the marionette section of the Academy of Fine
Arts but influenced by Czech Surrealism of the 1930s,
Å vankmajer turned away from the mainstream animation
developed by JirÃ Trnka in the 1950s (p. 449). His first
short film, The Last Trick (1964), combined puppets and
frame-by-frame animation in a bizarre duel of two
In Å vankmajerâ€™s films, images of fear, cruelty, and
frustration exude black humor. Every object has a rich texture and tactile appeal, yet the events follow the illogic of
dreams. Slabs of meat slither about; antique dolls are
24.27 Marcel Broodthaers interviews the replica of Jeremy
Bentham in Figures of Wax (1974).
Structural Film and After 539
called this tendency Structural Film. Although Sitney later
regretted using this term, it gained wide currency in experimental circles around the world.
If underground filmmakers emphasized shocking subject matter, Structural filmmakers stressed challenging
form. They concentrated the spectatorâ€™s attention on a
nonnarrative shape or system that organized the film.
Usually this form unfolded gradually, engaging the spectator in a process of noticing fine detail and speculating on
the filmâ€™s overall pattern.
A prime instance is Hollis Framptonâ€™s (nostalgia)
(1971). It consists of twelve shots; in each one, a photograph resting on a hot plate slowly burns to ashes (24.28).
The soundtrack also consists of twelve units, and, in each,
the narrator discusses his memories of each photo. But
each chunk of narration describes not the photo onscreen
but the photo that is to come next. The spectator imagines
what the next photo will look like, but she or he can never
directly check the description with the picture. The idea of
nostalgiaâ€”a longing for a past that cannot be recapturedâ€”is
manifested in the very structure of the film.
Framptonâ€™s film is also about the process by which
images are born and die, and this reflexivity is characteristic of Structural cinema. A Structural film might be
â€œaboutâ€ camera movement or photographic texture or the
illusion of motion. In Serene Velocity (1970), Ernie Gehr
creates pulsating views down a corridor by alternating
shots in which only the focal length of the lens changes
(24.29). Structural films were often called anti-illusionist
because they drew attention to the ways in which the
medium transforms the object filmed. As in (nostalgia),
the viewer becomes sharply aware of the act of viewing.
Structural principles had been explored in earlier
avant-garde works. Eat (1963) and other early Warhol
films emphasized stasis and minimal change, while his use
of entire camera rolls as the units of the film suggested a
modular construction that was explored by Structural
filmmakers. During the 1960s, Minimalist sculptors,
painters, and composers also concentrated attention on
bare-bones forms and slight changes in materials. Yvonne
Rainerâ€™s dance piece â€œTrio Aâ€ (1966) focused attention on
small movements and ordinary, worklike gestures.
Particularly important sources for Structural Film
were experiments by the loose group of American painters, composers, and performance artists known as Fluxus.
Influenced by Marcel Duchampâ€™s Dada work (p. 157) and
John Cageâ€™s theories of indeterminacy (p. 429), Fluxus
artists sought to dissolve the bounds between art and life.
They â€œframedâ€ mundane events or actionsâ€”a dripping tap,
a paintboxâ€”as artworks. â€œFluxfilmsâ€ pioneered the Structural approach, often by recording such banal activities as
24.28 A photograph starts to burn on a heating coil in
24.29 Alternating shots of a corridor, taken with a zoom
lens set at different focal lengths, create a rhythmic push-pull
effect in Serene Velocity.
540 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
dissolve a 1905 American Mutoscope & Biograph film
into frozen gestures and patches of light and dark.
Several Structural filmmakers organized their work
around a rigorous, almost mathematical, set of rules. Kurt
Krenâ€™s and Peter Kubelkaâ€™s early 1960s work (p. 466)
anticipated this tendency. In Serene Velocity, Gehr adjusted
focal length according to a strict set of procedures, moving from the least distinct changes to the most radically
noticeable ones. J. J. Murphyâ€™s Print Generation (1974) is
guided by a similar plan. After reprinting casual footage
until it became blobs and smears of light, Murphy
arranged the shots into arithmetical patterns that develop
from dimly visible imagery to recognizable figures and
then back into abstraction.
The most famous Structural film, Wavelength (1967),
by the Canadian Michael Snow, offers a rich mixture of
techniques. It begins as a descriptive study of a single loft
apartment, with the camera fixed at a distance from the
windows. People enter and leave, and a death seems to
occur, but the camera refuses to budge, preferring to register the slight changes in illumination in the apartment. At
the same time, the film flaunts a technique: the zoom,
which abruptly and spasmodically enlarges the frame at
intervals, indifferent to the action in the room. Over fortyfive minutes, as the lens enlarges the back wall (24.32), it
reveals a photograph of waves on the ocean. (So the film
traces a literal â€œwavelength.â€) In addition, bursts of color
periodically wash out the shot, serving as reflexive
reminders of the flatness of the cinematic image.
Several of Snowâ€™s films emphasize how the moving frame shapes our response. Wavelength exhibits the
eating and walking. Mieko Shiomiâ€™s Disappearing Music
for Face (1966) records a fading smile at 2,000 frames per
second, creating onscreen movement so slow as to be
imperceptible. Conceptual artist Yoko Ono made several
Fluxfilms (24.30) and with her husband, John Lennon,
continued on a minimalist line. Their forty-five-minute Fly
(1970) follows a fly crawling over a womanâ€™s body.
Having largely abandoned storytelling, Structural filmmakers sought other organizing principles. Some films
center on a single process of gradual change, inviting the
spectator to notice minute differences from moment to
moment. For example, Larry Gottheimâ€™s Fog Line (1970)
shows, from a fixed long shot and over an interval of eleven
minutes, a field with fences and cattle gradually becoming
visible as a fog lifts. This gradual-change approach usually
relies on the static camera setup, the long take, or some
form of rephotography. In David Rimmerâ€™s Surfacing on
the Thames (Canada, 1970), an optical printer reduces riverboats to slightly changing granular patches reminiscent
of Impressionist painting (Color Plate 24.6).
Other Structural films complicate their form through
repetition. George Landowâ€™s Film in Which There Appear
Sprocket Holes, Edge Lettering, Dirt Particles, Etc. (1966)
takes a strip of test footage featuring a womanâ€™s face, copies it so that four shots fill the frame, and then loops the
result so that the strip accumulates scratches and dirt in
successive printings (24.31). Paul Sharitsâ€™s films alternate
solid-colored frames and tableaux of aggressive actions.
The result bombards the viewer with flickering colors and
subliminal imagery (Color Plate 24.7). Ken Jacobsâ€™s Tom,
Tom the Piperâ€™s Son (1969) employs rephotography to
24.30 Yoko Onoâ€™s 1966 Film No. 4 (Bottoms) consists
exclusively of walking buttocks.
24.31 Film in Which There Appear Sprocket Holes, Edge
Lettering, Dirt Particles, Etc.: loops of a laboratory test in which
the woman on the right blinks but the woman on the left
Structural Film and After 541
arranged in alphabetical order. Gradually, as Frampton
runs through the alphabet again and again, every time
using a different set of words, each letterâ€™s slot is filled by
an imageâ€”fire, ocean waves, grinding hamburger. By the
end of this section, the film has created a unique pictorial
alphabet, each image correlated with one letter.
The filmâ€™s final section consists of several long takes
of a man, a woman, and a dog slowly crossing a snowy
field as voices read a medieval text about light. While the
middle section exemplifies the rigorously systematic side
of Structural Film, Framptonâ€™s fixed camera and final
long takes present a gradual change in the manner of
Gottheimâ€™s Fog Line and other meditative works.
Framptonâ€™s films, like other Structural pieces, often
invite the spectator to watch himself or herself undergoing the very experience of the film. This â€œparticipatoryâ€
relation between the viewer and the film led Sitney to
suggest that the Structural trend was fundamentally about
human consciousness, the ways in which the mind builds
patterns and draws conclusions on the basis of sensory
perceptual effects of the zoom; â†” (called Back and Forth,
1969) explores pan shots; Breakfast (1976) comically
demonstrates how the tracking shot alters space. For the
majestic La RÃ©gion centrale (Central Region, 1971), Snow
filmed a rocky wasteland with a multiple-jointed machine
that executed pans, crane shots, and other movements
In the United States, perhaps the most versatile exponent of Structural Film was Hollis Frampton. Trained in
science and mathematics but steeped in the history of
painting and literature, Frampton declared his opposition
to the romantic sensuousness of his predecessors. According to Frampton, to understand an artwork a viewer had to
recover its â€œaxiomatic substructureâ€5
â€”a notion that would
have made Stan Brakhage shudder.
Framptonâ€™s celebrated Zorns Lemma (1970) merges
several strains within Structural cinema. The filmâ€™s first
section, over a blank screen, consists of a womanâ€™s voice
reading an ABC rhyme taken from a colonial American
primer. The second portion consists of one-second shots
showing single words, usually found on signs (24.34),
24.33 Snow adjusts his filming
machine in the Canadian landscape;
during shooting, the cameraâ€™s
gyrations were operated by remote
control (Central Region).
camera zooms in
on a distant wall,
oblivious to the
dead man in the
Lemma: an â€œAâ€
542 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
British filmmakers drawn to the Structural idea found
this psychological approach disagreeable. At the London
Co-op, â€œStructural/Materialistâ€ filmmakers such as Peter
Gidal and Malcolm Le Grice insisted that the most honest
film was about only the medium itself. By drawing the
spectatorâ€™s attention to filmic qualities, the films produced
knowledge about the â€œmaterialâ€ processes of cinema. Le
Griceâ€™s Little Dog for Roger (1967), which subjects old
home movies to a dizzying range of printing techniques
(24.35), exemplifies this stance. Structural/Materialist
ideas influenced many British filmmakers, including Chris
Welsby (Seven Days, 1974) and John Smith (24.36), who
turned landscapes into formal systems far stricter and
more elaborate than those visible in Fog Line and Central
But sometimes the Structural impulse had a less
intellectual tint. Many filmmakers applied Structural
techniques to erotic material. In Paul de Nooiyerâ€™s Transformation by Holding Time (Netherlands, 1977), a man
photographs a nude woman in Polaroid snapshots and
then mounts each one on a grid close to us. The filmâ€™s
distinct shape is concluded when the photos fill the frame,
reconstructing the womanâ€™s body from several vantage
Other filmmakers used the Structural Filmâ€™s emphasis
on purely cinematic material to evoke emotions recalling
the film lyric. The Italian painter Paolo Gioli imaginatively
manipulated the machines and materials of cinematography. Like Landow, Jacobs, and the British Structural/
Materialists, he reworked footage scavenged from early
cinema. Shots are accelerated, halted, torn up, flipped
over, and turned to negative (24.37). Several shots may be
24.35 A 9.5mm home movie, with its central perforations
and skewed frame lines, whizzes through the frame in Le
Griceâ€™s Little Dog for Roger.
November 4th 1977
24.37 In Images Disturbed by a Puissant Parasite (1970),
Gioliâ€™s fascination with the punctured frame of 9.5mm film
stock becomes a compositional device.
embedded within the frame, which itself may glide out of
alignment with the edges of the screen. In his search for
destabilized imagery, Gioli created cameras without shutters and replaced lenses with pinholes. But Gioli does not
Structural Film and After 543
distribute experimental work. Bruce Elder in Canada,
Peter Gidal in England, Birgit Hein in Germany, and other
Structural filmmakers wrote essays that attracted public
attention and helped fund work in this vein. The British
Film Institute expanded its aid to experimental production, as did the Canadian Arts Council. The Goethe Institute of West Germany and the Alliance FranÃ§aise offered
touring packages of experimental films. In all these countries, Structural Film played a central role in making
experimental film culturally respectable.
Reactions to Structural Film: The Return of Narrative
As institutional support expanded for the Structural project, North American filmmakers launched ambitious,
even epic works. Michael Snowâ€™s Rameauâ€™s Nephew by
Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen (1974)
runs four and a half hours. Its segments systematically
explore paradoxes of language and sound effects in the
cinema. Hollis Frampton conceived Magellan, a thirty-sixhour film to be shown in installments over 371 days. It
remained unfinished at Framptonâ€™s death in 1984.
For many filmmakers, however, these efforts showed
that Structural Film was an overintellectual, apolitical
dead end. Its acceptance as â€œhigh artâ€ meant that the
avant-garde had lost its critical edge. Generations who had
not lived through the innovations of the 1960s had little
sympathy with modernism, particularly in its purist guises.
Moreover, Structural Film, especially in North America,
had been dominated by men, but the reactions to the
Structural movement were led by women. This tendency
paralleled the growth of feminist documentary and feature
filmmaking during the 1970s. Women filmmakers often
turned to personal, confessional modes that created complex memoirs of growing up female.
For all filmmakers, despite the 1960sâ€“1970s flurry of
co-ops and institutional funding, by the 1990s opportunities were narrowing. Experimentalists, particularly in
Europe, where government subsidies supported more offbeat work, were seeking to reach mainstream or arthouse
audiences. In Britain, support for small-scale filmmaking
was drastically cut in the late 1980s, while in the United
States the National Endowment for the Arts began to
refuse to support work judged blasphemous or obscene.
Museumsâ€™ budget deficits forced them to orient exhibits
toward broader tastes. In becoming an elite art, avantgarde film had become largely confined to universities and
prey to dwindling government funding. Eventually, some
experimental cinema would turn to video and migrate to
museums and the Internet.
subject the burst of imagery to a strict rational plan, going
instead for strongly charged emotions. His rapidly cut films
suggest anxiety and pain, while the gentler Anonimatograph
(1972) recasts home movies and domestic photos in order
to evoke a familyâ€™s separation during World War I.
Underground film reached a broad public through
accessible humor and shock value, but most Structural
films were aimed at a sophisticated audience interested in
reflexivity and other rarefied aesthetic issues. The filmsâ€™
intellectual rigor and affinities with art-world movements
carried them into museums, galleries, art schools, and
Structural Film further benefited from an expansion of
avant-garde institutions. In 1966, the Millennium Film
Workshop of New York began as a production cooperative
and screening venue. Jonas Mekas opened the Anthology
Film Archives (24.38) in 1970 as a repository for a canon
of masterpieces, including many from the postwar avantgarde. In response, the Collective for Living Cinema
(founded in 1973) offered younger artists a venue. During
the same period, filmmakers began to receive funding from
the National Endowment for the Arts (established in 1965),
state arts councils, and the Jerome Foundation (established
by railroad heir and experimental filmmaker Jerome Hill).
Cooperatives and collectives grew stronger. In Britain,
Cinema Action and The Other Cinema were formed to
24.38 Between 1970 and 1974, New Yorkâ€™s Anthology Film
Archives held screenings in the â€œInvisible Cinema,â€ an
auditorium designed to enhance each individualâ€™s absorption in
the film experience. Here, Andy Warhol sits in one of the
auditoriumâ€™s partitioned seats.
544 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
techniques were still very powerful tools. Lengthy and
static shots, a focus on gradual changes, scrutiny of found
footage, the search for minimal conditions of cinema, and
conceptual principles of form like numbers or categoriesâ€”
all these continued to stimulate experimental filmmakers.
Avoiding this aesthetic was surprisingly difficult. Take, for
instance, the case of paracinema.
In 1973, viewers in New York City came to see a work
by Anthony McCall called Line Describing a Cone. They
might have expected an abstract film, but what they got
was far from that. On screen, all that could be seen was a
dot of light gradually completing a circle. But turning
toward the projector, viewers saw something different.
Over thirty minutes, a slender line of light twisted and billowed to create a hollow cone that filled the viewing space.
The result was a light-based sculpture (Color Plate 24.10).
Dust motes and cigarette smoke made the emerging shape
seem even more tangible.
Line Describing a Cone created its changing beam
through a piece of film running through a projector. After
other â€œprojector-beamâ€ films, McCall dispensed with film
and projector altogether. Long Film for Ambient Light
(1975) consisted of a Manhattan loft lit by a single bulb
and filtering diffused light from outdoors. Over fifty days,
spectators were invited to come and go as they liked. How
could this be a film at all?
McCallâ€™s work was the extreme edge of what one historian has called paracinemaâ€”films that reject some basic
materials of the film medium but still play on our expectations about what cinema is.6 Line Describing a Cone minimizes the role of imagery projected on a screen in order to
show that we can think of film as luminous, changing
Going beyond Structural Filmâ€ƒThere was a growing
sense that, in all media, avant-garde activity had reached a
steady state. Some critics proposed that the idea of one stylistic movement following another was no longer valid.
After Structural Film, arguably the last large-scale movement in experimental cinema, artists would pursue a variety
of forms and styles, none of which would dominate.
From this angle, it did not seem a step backward for
Nathaniel Dorsky to make quasi-abstract explorations in
line and texture such as Triste (1994; Color Plate 24.8).
Phil Solomon, a friend of Brakhage, gave found footage
a voluptuous handling, in bursts of color (The Secret
Garden, 1988) or burnished monochrome seething with
the spidery cracks of a rediscovered painting (American
Falls, 2000â€“2012; Color Plate 24.9). Similarly, over
more than fifty years Robert Beavers, collaborator and
partner of Gregory Markopoulos, remained committed
to merging lyrical film with diary forms, ending still-life
framings with quick camera jerks suggesting eye-flicks.
Peter Hutton could instill the landscape film with a lustrous beauty characteristic of old photographs without
seeming to follow either Structural or anti-Structural
Still, Structural Film remained as central to the avantgarde as Direct Cinema was to the documentary. Many of
Structural practitioners continued their explorations for
decades. Ernie Gehr turned an outdoor glass elevator into
a vehicle for vertigo in Side/Walk/Shuttle (1991; 24.40),
and he adapted Structural methods to digital video in the
2000s. Michael Snowâ€™s Corpus Callosum (2002) was a
large-scale mixture of visual effects and whimsy like
Rameauâ€™s Nephew by Diderot. Just as important, Structural
24.39 In Time and Tide (2000), Peter Hutton renders a
shipâ€™s path through ice as a slow, symmetrical unfolding.
24.40 Sliding slowly through a cityscape, Side/Walk/Shuttle
uses Structural rigor to create dizzying perceptual puzzles.
Structural Film and After 545
that could be found in many ordinary phenomena (like a
New York loft). Going beyond Structural Film was not as
easy as it might seem.
Stories, Dense or Crypticâ€ƒHow do you challenge a powerful artistic trend? One way is to embrace what it refuses.
In the case of Structural Film, that was narrative. To one
degree or another, filmmakers brought stories back to the
avant-garde. But these stories were not those of mainstream
cinema. And some filmmakers sought to blend the emotional appeals of storytelling with the conceptual, reflexive
form of Structural cinema.
One way to absorb narrative was to rework mainstream
movies in dislocating ways. Peter Tscherkassky, an Austrian Structural filmmaker fascinated by the opulence of
Hollywood spectacle, dismantled a widescreen horror film.
By superimposing frames from different parts of the original, Outer Space (1999) accentuates genre conventionsâ€”
conjuring up a new flurry of specters to plague the
heroineâ€”while also creating abstract, hallucinatory imagery (24.41). Again, a filmmaker might reconstruct a
film along lines recalling the Structural approach. Ken
Jacobsâ€™s The Doctorâ€™s Dream (1978) reorders shots of a
1930s fictional short according to an arbitrary numerical
Off-kilter homages to mainstream filmmaking also
figured in the work of Canadian Guy Maddin. A passionate cinephile, Maddin merged melodrama and grotesque
fantasy in Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988), Archangel
(1990), and Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997). His short
film The Heart of the World (2000) tells the story of Anna,
a Bolshevik scientist who studies the earthâ€™s core. Maddin
draws on newsreel footage but also creates extravagant
sets. The Heart of the World parodies silent Soviet and
German cinema with canted angles, hectic montage, and
sculpture. McCall could have called his Long Film, â€œA
Visit to My Loft,â€ but then he would not have asked the
viewer to think about changing patterns of light as cinematic material. The Structural filmmakers explored the
physical material of the film strip and the ways that photography transformed the world. But paracinema asked
people to acknowledge cinematic qualities outside the
medium as we traditionally define it.
With Line Describing a Cone, the film-object emerged
during projection, and other filmmakers emphasized projection as a kind of performance. Ken Jacobs, a wellestablished Structural filmmaker, created a spectacle he
called Nervous System. Jacobs discovered that he could
change the viewerâ€™s experience by projecting two copies of
a film at the same time, but with the projectors slightly out
of sync, superimposing one image on another or running
one print a little faster. The result could be hallucinatory.
For his performance cycle The Impossible (1975â€“1980),
he recast Tom, Tom, the Piperâ€™s Son, which he had already
dissected in Structural fashion (p. 540), into a complex
array of dissolving views, including phantom 3D effects.
Jacobs gave the audience filters to hold before their eyes,
so that the figures on screen became at once more solid
and more like apparitions.
The work of McCall, Jacobs, and others suggested
expanding our conception of cinema, rather than reducing
it to physical material, as Structural Film had. But in a
sense they continued the Structural impulse. What was
the cone or ambient-light film but an example of minute
gradual changes, as in Fog Line? And McCall said that
Line Describing a Cone dealt with â€œone of the irreducible,
necessary conditions of film: projected light.â€7 Paracinema seemed to define a new set of essentially cinematic
qualitiesâ€”light in time, or the unrepeatable ecstasies of a
particular screening, or simply some idea of â€œthe filmicâ€
24.41 Outer Space: By printing superimpositions with a contact printer lit by a laser
pointer, Tscherkassky turns The Entity into a phantasmagoria.
546 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
Similarly, Yvonne Rainer moved to film because of
her wish to present emotion in a more direct way than she
could in dance. Her Lives of Performers (1972), Film about
a Woman Who . . . (1974), and Kristina Talking Pictures
(1976) dominated what came to be called the â€œNew
Talkies,â€ because of their extensive use of dialogue and
Rainerâ€™s films take up subjects familiar from Hollywood melodramaâ€”love affairs, relations among women,
and definition of the self through memory. But the plots
remain fragmentary, and character relations are vague or
even inconsistent. The same character may be played by
different actors; a voice cannot always be assigned to a
figure. Dramatic events occur offscreen, presented on the
soundtrack or in captions. Onscreen we see photographs
and still lifes, performances and recitations. Occasionally,
a text queries both the viewer and the image (24.44).
Journeys from Berlin/1971 (1980) exemplifies Rainerâ€™s
approach. Several lines of material alternate. A rolling title
chronicles West Germanyâ€™s treatment of political criminals. There are long-held cityscapes, overhead views of
Metropolis-like machines, while scratching and overexposing the film to resemble archival footage (24.42).
Rather than dismantle a single film or genre or style,
some filmmakers simply ransacked mass culture as a whole
to create hallucinatory, digressive narratives. In Leslie
Thorntonâ€™s Peggy and Fred in Hell series (1983â€“2013), two
children journey through contemporary America, its desolate rooms and landscapes littered with bits of classic
films, the Old Testament, citizensâ€™ band radio, and TV
Editing bits and pieces of mass-media products had
been pioneered by the Lettrists and Bruce Conner
(p. 540). The technique was given a narrative arc in Craig
Baldwinâ€™s paranoid compilation Tribulation 99: Alien
Anomalies under America (1992). Baldwin linked conspiracy theories, science fiction, and millenarian fantasies
into a supermarket-tabloid history of the world (24.43). A
parallel development took place in the USSR. The satiric
compilation films of Igor and Gleb Aneinikov (Tractors,
1987) mock clichÃ©s of Socialist Realism in ways reminiscent of that unofficial Soviet version of Pop Art called
Pop-culture collage could also employ cut-out animation. Lewis Klahr sliced up old magazines and comic books
to create phantasmagorias of American middle-class life.
Klahrâ€™s films suggest digressive, cryptic narratives under
their surface. In Altair (1994), clippings from 1950s womenâ€™s
magazines suggest a plunge into alcoholism. In The Pharaohâ€™s
Belt (1993), ninjas wrestle in suburban living rooms, babies
gnaw through layer cakes, and models and superheroes meet
the Jolly Green Giant (Color Plate 24.11).
Narrative came forward in other ways in the work of
several women filmmakers. Chantal Akermanâ€™s Je tu il elle
â€œI You He She,â€ 1974) followed a young womanâ€™s wanderings on the road. Joyce Wielandâ€™s The Far Shore (1976)
inserted mythical characters into a biography of a prominent Canadian painter. Wieland was a multimedia artist
who saw film as a natural extension of her work in painting and needlework.
99: in a tabloidstyle juxtaposition,
aliens from the
earthâ€™s core greet
set design in The
Heart of the World
avant-garde styles of
the 1920s (compare
with 4.40, 5.5,
24.44 The title
in Film about a
Woman Who . . .
Structural Film and After 547
Stonehenge and the Berlin Wall, and glimpses of a man
and a woman on city streets. In a string of psychoanalytic
sessions, the doctor changes from a woman to a man to a
child. We hear a young girl reading an adolescentâ€™s diary
from the early 1950s and a kitchen dialogue between a
man and a woman discussing revolutionary movements in
the West. At intervals, the camera tracks across a mantelpiece crowded with objects that are referred to elsewhere
in the film, including a heap of spaghetti (24.45).
The new narratives of the 1970s retained some of the
rigor and playfulness of Structural cinema. Rainerâ€™s
delayed hookups between image and sound (asking the
spectator, for instance, to remember the spaghetti when
the patient mentions it) recall the participatory processes
of Framptonâ€™s (nostalgia). Structural impulses also
returned in James Benningâ€™s films, in which sketchy narratives are played out in vast, gradually changing Midwestern landscapes. His One Way Boogie Woogie (1977) carries
color motifs and barely noticeable actions through sixty
long shots lasting one minute each (Color Plate 24.12).
Stories emerge more playfully in the work of the
Englishman Peter Greenaway. He gleefully discovered
obscure narratives lurking within nearly every structural
patternâ€”numbers, colors, and alphabets. His films, though
based on categorical structures, are far from minimal; they
are jammed with whimsical anecdotes and arcane references. While Framptonâ€™s Zorns Lemma employs the alphabet as a nonnarrative structure, in Greenawayâ€™s The Falls
(1980) alphabetical order forms the basis of a three-hour
survey of how a mysterious public health disaster affected
ninety-two people whose surnames begin with â€œFallâ€
(24.46). As the spectator struggles to assemble a larger
story out of the Fallsâ€™ dossiers, Greenaway parodies the
clichÃ©s of experimental film through negative footage,
tinted shots, looping, and rephotographed shots of
Punk and No Waveâ€ƒThe most abrasive alternative to
Structural Film emerged from a new insistence on raw emotion in art. In the 1970s, Punk rock became a force in pop
music, while Neo-Expressionism and graffiti art emerged in
the world of painting. Jagged, visceral narrative films shot
on super 8mm appeared in Manhattan music clubs, bars,
and cabarets. Vivienne Dickâ€™s She Had Her Gun All Ready
(1978) centers on the sadistic relationship between an
aggressive woman and her passive partner. In Scott B and
Beth Bâ€™s The Black Box (1979), mysterious thugs kidnap
and torture a young man. The audience is assaulted as well
when the theater lights flash on and off in synchronization
with the punishing rays of the â€œblack box.â€
Rejecting most avant-garde trends of the moment,
Punk and â€œNo Waveâ€ filmmakers scavenged ideas from B
movies, exploitation films, film noir, and pornography.
Kodakâ€™s introduction of synchronized-sound super-8mm
stock in 1974 enabled directors to shoot long dialogue
scenes and enhance the films with a microphone buzz
that would grate on the nerves when magnified on musicclub sound systems.
Punk-flavored movements appeared outside the
United States. In Japan, college and high school students
created Punk-oriented super-8mm films with noir leanings,
often inflected by ideas drawn from violent Japanese
manga (comic strips). In Masashi Yamamotoâ€™s featurelength Dark Carnival (1981), a rock singer wanders
through the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, discovering the ugly,
horrific side of city nightlife. Shunichi Nagasakiâ€™s Heart,
Beating in the Dark (1982) presents a tale of a young man
and woman spending a night together copulating, the event
interrupted by mysterious flashback and fantasy scenes; in
some of these, she envisions him as another woman. An
annual festival sponsored by a Tokyo pop-music magazine
encouraged young filmmakers to create experimental
small-gauge work, and festival winners found producers
offering to back projects.
landscape and still
life in Journeys
24.46 The home of Constance Fallaburr, adjacent to ZÃ¼rich
airport (The Falls).
548 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
In the USSR, Punk 16mm filmmakers worked outside
the official film culture in the early 1980s. With
Gorbachevâ€™s new policies of openness, this underground
cinema surfaced. Many of its products, closely tied to
Soviet rock and roll, were harsh, chaotic, and obscene in
the American Punk vein. Evgeny Yufit founded what he
called â€œnecro-realismâ€ in films of degeneracy, death, and
absurdity shot in a frantic, rough-edged style.
For all its brutal intensity, the Punk and No Wave
trend was one more sign of a return to storytelling in the
avant-garde. Another indication was a defiant interest in
pornography, criticized as a misrepresentation of womenâ€™s
sexuality but also celebrated as a subversive source of pleasure. Elfi Mikesch and Monika Treutâ€™s Seduction: The
Cruel Woman (West Germany, 1983), with its sadomasochistic tableaux; Claudia Schillingerâ€™s Between (West
Germany, 1989), with its fantasies of bondage and
masturbation; Peggy Ahwesh and Keith Sanbornâ€™s The
Deadman (United States, 1989)â€”all aimed defiant gestures
at mainstream viewers and fastidious avant-garde tastes.
Warhol, who influenced underground film, Structural
Film, and Punk film, could also be considered another
inspiration for this aggressively erotic work.
Political Modernism, Feminism, and Subcultural
Narrativesâ€ƒDuring the 1970s, commitment to political
modernism waned in the commercial art cinema, but it
gained ground in the experimental realm and never left.
An early trend sought to criticize ideologies from a
standpoint influenced by contemporary film theory. Influenced by Godard and Straub and Huillet (p. 409), filmmakers used a minimal visual style and lengthy spoken
commentary to criticize the political power of visual
media and other sign systems. An influential early example was Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollenâ€™s Riddles of the
Sphinx (Great Britain, 1977), which interrupts a story of a
contemporary womanâ€™s daily life with ancient imagery,
footage of a handheld game, and lectures about psychoanalytic theory.
In the same vein, Sally Potterâ€™s Thriller (Great Britain,
1979) cites classical storytelling in order to dismantle it:
Mimi, protagonist of Pucciniâ€™s opera La BohÃ¨me, investigates her own death. This paradoxical plotline unrolls as
an exploration of how womenâ€™s identities are historically
defined by language and conventional imagery. Thriller
plumbs the ideological underpinnings of myths and classic
artworks (24.47). Potterâ€™s shift to narrative prepared her
to make more mainstream features with more orthodox
plots, but they retained their ties to politicized narrative
and experimental technique; the dialogue of Yes (2004) is
Political filmmaking in the wake of 1968 posited that
â€œthe personal is the political.â€ By the mid-1970s, many
feminist filmmakers were finding political implications in
the avant-gardeâ€™s realm of â€œpersonalâ€ filmmaking. Women
filmmakers took up lyric and Structural techniques to
reveal domestic space from the standpoint of womenâ€™s
memory and imagination. The way had been pointed by
the Canadian Joyce Wieland (Water Sark, 1965; Hand
Tinting, 1967) and the German Dore O. Nekas (24.48).
Michelle Citron (Daughter Rite, 1978) and Marjorie
Keller (Daughters of Chaos, 1980) reworked their parentsâ€™
home-movie footage in order to discover how female roles
and attitudes take shape within family life (24.49). These
films redefined the Brakhagean film lyric. Instead of yielding security and artistic inspiration, the home often creates anxiety, pain, and oppression. The spontaneous
self-expression of Anticipation of the Night (p. 451) is
replaced by a suggestion that a sense of self is constructed
through social processes.
By the 1980s, a distinctive feminist avant-garde
emerged, embracing narrative to capture womenâ€™s experience but enhancing it with techniques drawn from the
entirety of the experimental tradition. In Lizzie Bordenâ€™s
24.49 Daughters of Chaos: girls
together in a home movie.
24.48 The family portrait as stifling
tableau in Lawale (West Germany, 1969,
24.47 Mimi/Musetta meets another
Mimi as herself in Potterâ€™s Thriller.
Structural Film and After 549
Barbara Hammer, Abigail Child, and Su Friedrich drew
on Structural, New Narrative, and Punk techniques, as
well as soap operas and film-noir imagery, to present
stories centering on childhood trauma and sexual
Some filmmakers of color worked in the experimental
vein. In London, the Sankofa Film and Video Collective
and other groups tackled British black issues while also
absorbing avant-garde elements. Martina Attileâ€™s Dreaming
Rivers (1988), with its deathbed visions of a woman who
has emigrated to London from the West Indies, has precedents in Derenâ€™s trance films. Isaac Julienâ€™s Looking for
Langston (Great Britain, 1989) opened up the artistbiography film with imagery reminiscent of Cocteau.
From the 1990s onward, many minority filmmakers
brought their social criticism to documentary and gallery
The momentum of post-1968 political filmmaking
continued in avant-garde work into the 2010s. Marginality
was celebrated, as it had been in the underground and
Punk films. Although experimental films did not enjoy the
wide distribution of more commercial efforts, the â€œidentity politicsâ€ dimension sustained viewersâ€™ sense of community at film festivals and arts centers. Digital media and
online services like Vimeo enabled some of this work to
reach wider audiences.
Avant-garde and documentary cinema had mingled since
the 1920s, and they continued to do so. Like other trends,
merging with documentary often committed the experimentalist to telling stories.
dystopian Born in Flames (1983), aspects of feminist Punk
meld with rap music in a portrayal of women guerrillas in
a future society uniting to fight the government (24.50).
Through a similar mixture of styles, Jennifer Todd
Reevesâ€™s chronic (1996) traces the causes of a girlâ€™s selfmutilation. Reevesâ€™s The Time We Killed (2004) intercuts a
womanâ€™s retreat to her apartment with fantasies and flashbacks, including imagery of the 9/11 Trade Tower attacks
and the invasion of Iraq.
The avant-garde had long nurtured gay and lesbian
cinema. In the 1970s and 1980s, as gay activists openly
challenged heterosexual society (see Chapter 23), filmmakers more frankly made homosexual works. The West
German Rosa von Praunheim undertook a string of
militant quasi-underground films beginning with It Is Not
the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which
He Lives (1971), which surveys New York gay life.
More widely seen was the work of Derek Jarman, an
English painter and set designer. Jarmanâ€™s short, super8mm films are reminiscent of Brakhage in their jittery
camerawork and of Warhol in their impassive treatment of
male bodies. Sebastiane (1976), his first feature, sets its
action in the era of the Roman Empire, and the filmâ€™s dialogue is all spoken in (subtitled) Latin. Its loose plot follows the fortunes of a Christian soldier who is ultimately
martyred as much for resisting an officerâ€™s sexual advances
as for refusing to fight on pacifist grounds (24.51).
Jarman went on to make both gay-inflected arthouse narratives (Caravaggio, 1986; Edward II, 1991) and the minimal Blue (1993), which presents a radiantly colored
screen accompanied by the voice-over of the nearly blind
Jarman was a strong influence on the New Queer Cinema, which emerged in several countries and which found
an international venue at the New York Lesbian and Gay
Experimental Film Festival, founded in 1987. Many feminist filmmakers pioneered lesbian and bisexual cinema.
24.50 Born in Flames: underground
radio, with activist DJs inciting revolt. 24.51 Sebastiane creates a homoerotic
version of the saintâ€™s martyrdom.
24.52 The masked and looped
imagery of Structural Film, the New
Talkiesâ€™ use of intertitles to narrate the
action, and handscratches reminiscent of
Brakhage evoke dreams and a sexually
charged feminist anger in Friedrichâ€™s
Gently Down the Stream (1981).
550 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
CUTTING THE TIE TO PHOTOGRAPHY: ANIMATED DOCUMENTARY
As experimental impulses merged with documentary filming, so did animation. Historically, documentaries have
resorted to animation chiefly for quick illustrations of maps
and charts. Animation might seem unable to capture actuality as live-action cinema does. Nonetheless, filmmakers
explored ways in which animation can represent people
and what they do.
A straightforward option was to let animation illustrate a
recorded conversation. In Moonbird (1959) and other films,
John and Faith Hubley pictured what their children told
them. For Abductees (1995), Paul Vester recruited animators
using very different styles to visualize the testimony of
people who report being captured by aliens. In Is the Man
Who Is Tall Happy? (2013), florid doodles decorate Michel
Gondryâ€™s interview with linguist Noam Chomsky, which is
itself represented in cartoon form (24.53). More elaborate
3D animation was used in a similar situation in Chris
Landrethâ€™s Ryan (2004). An interview with a pioneering
Canadian animator, now homeless, is rendered through
eerie computer-generated imagery (CGI), with the decrepit
but still effusive Ryan hollowed out (Color Plate 24.13).
Sometimes animation was used to show what was
never filmed, or could not be filmed. Drawn from Memory
(1991) is a memoir of Paul Fierlingerâ€™s childhood during
World War II. Jen Sachsâ€™s Velvet Tigress (2001) deploys
pixilation, cutouts, drawn animation, and digital compositing to illustrate a 1931 murder and its cover-up.
Ari Folman made Waltz with Bashir (2008) to record
his struggle to recall his experience in the Israeli infantry
during the war in Lebanon. The film alternates between his
life in the present, interviewing others who were in Beirut
during a massacre, and scenes recreating past events that
he witnessed (24.54). The guilt Folman feels drives him to
the sort of investigation that became common in liveaction documentaries.
Life, Animated (2016) employs cartoons to suggest a
personâ€™s imagination. Ron Suskindâ€™s son Owen, affected
by autism, was helped to connect with other people
through Disney cartoons. So Suskind incorporated them
into his film, adding new animated sequences to illustrate
Owenâ€™s perception of the world. By contrast, the public
tumult of a 1966 mass murder was distilled into poignant
form in Keith Maitlandâ€™s Tower (2016). Maitland used the
synthetic format to follow the agonized progression of
events as people are trapped on a Texas campus by a
sniper above them. There are interviews, archival footage,
contemporary images, and even reenactments. But by digitally rotoscoping all this material, Maitland renders the
events and the survivorsâ€™ reactions in stylized images
(24.55). The result is more moving than the hastily
snatched 16mm images of the event are.
Ever since Flaherty, documentary filmmakers have gone
beyond simply recording reality. Those relying on animation
are following Vertov, Ruttmann, Humphrey Jennings, and
many others in trying, though all the techniques cinema
affords, to creatively interpret events in our world.
24.53 An animated interview with Noam Chomsky (Is the Man
Who Is Tall Happy?).
24.54 Waltz with Bashir: the bleak aftermath of
24.55 Eyewitness testimony with digital rotoscoping and
original footage in Tower.
Structural Film and After 551
in Denmark (1972), people enact their daily routines in an
eerie black space. â€œIâ€™m very interested,â€ Leth admitted, â€œin
making the banal exotic.â€8
Leth found greater fame late in life through his participation in The Five Obstructions (2003), a collaboration
with Lars von Trier (p. 693). The film was another teasing
merger of experimental and documentary cinema. At the
start, von Trier challenges Leth to make five new versions
of The Perfect Human, under constraints that von Trier
will set. In one version, each shot must be one second
long; another version must be filmed in the most povertystricken place on earth (Color Plate 24.15). Lethâ€™s ingenious responses to von Trierâ€™s â€œobstructionsâ€ show that
arbitrary limits can foster creativity in both documentaries
and experimental films.
Similarly strict were Liu Jiayinâ€™s home-made films
about her parents. She documented her fatherâ€™s leathergoods craftsmanship in Oxhide (China, 2005), abstracting
it through home-made widescreen masking created out of
construction paper. Oxhide II (2009) formalizes the
domestic routine of making dumplings (24.57). A strict
spatial structure leaves room for moments of intimacy and
revelations about the familyâ€™s failing business. Ben Riversâ€™s
Two Years at Sea (United Kingdom, 2011) also uses the
geometry supplied by the widescreen, along with very long
takes and an almost wordless soundtrack, to turn his portrait of a rural hermit into an exercise in abstract space
Throughout this period, filmmakers merged ethnographic impulses with experimental techniques. In Fake
Fruit Factory (1986), Chick Strand relies on extreme closeups of womenâ€™s hands making artificial fruit, yielding
quick impressions of the feel of the tasks (24.58). Nikolaus
Geyrhalterâ€™s Our Daily Bread (2005) uses flat, frontal
imagery reminiscent of Structural Film to record factory
farming around the world (Color Plate 24.16). Ethnography moved closer to home in Marlon Riggsâ€™s Tongues
Untied (1996). Somewhat in the spirit of Maya Derenâ€™s
Ritual in Transfigured Time (p. 443), he filled the image
As a young photographer in Amsterdam, Johan van
der Keuken found Direct Cinema liberating but felt that it
downplayed formal concerns. Across dozens of films, Van
der Keuken sought to balance photographic authenticity
with innovative style and structure. Blind Child 1 (1964)
was at once a record of how a blind boy makes his way
through the world and an assembly of sounds as he might
hear them. Four Walls (1965) treats a housing shortage as
a study in cramped visual design.
In the 1970s, van der Keuken widened his view and
created large-scale films about working people around the
world. His â€œNorth-South Trilogyâ€ (1972â€“1974) juxtaposed laborers in the Third World with others in Europe,
drawing out similarities and contrasts through composition and sound effects. Many of the shots have the abstract
beauty of paintings, as when Bolivian miners are shown
jammed into an elevator cage (Color Plate 24.14). The
energetic van der Keuken produced both straight reportage and ruminative film-essays reminiscent of Chris
Marker (p. 434). Amsterdam Global Village (1997) is a vast
city symphony, showing how the city is linked to distant
corners of the earth.
The Danish filmmaker JÃ¸rgen Leth made a similar
effort to fuse the documentary impulse and avant-garde
aesthetics. He filmed hippies in Nepal, a trip through
China, dance concerts, and sports, particularly bicycling,
and he gave many of these projects a poetic treatment. At
the other extreme, he scrutinized ordinary behavior in
experiments he labeled â€œanthropological.â€ The Perfect
Human (1967) puts a formally dressed man and woman in
a white vacuum and makes them soberly perform ordinary
actions like dressing, eating, and falling. The voice-over
commentator explains what we are seeing in the simplest
terms, as if we were children or Martians (24.56). In Life
24.56 â€œLook,â€ explains the faux-naive narrator, â€œnow she lies
down. How does she lie down? Like this. Here is the perfect
human when she is lying downâ€ (The Perfect Human).
24.57 In Oxhide II, rigorously patterned compositions move
clockwise around the table and create micro-landscapes of
utensils and gestures.
552 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
and videocassette. Those pressures increased with the rise
of digital media and the Internet in the 2000s.
The Impact of Videoâ€ƒFor documentarists, the shift to
the small screen was fairly smooth. Television was an
important funding source and exhibition venue; most of
Wisemanâ€™s films, for instance, were initially made for broadcast. The introduction in 1965 of portapaksâ€”cameras using
1-inch reel-to-reel tape, then in 1971 ones using 3/4-inch
tape in â€œU-maticâ€ cartridgesâ€”gave video the flexibility of
Direct Cinema. The U-matic system quickly replaced 16mm
film for much broadcast reporting. By the 2000s, lightweight
cameras made shooting on digital video the universal
Video also boosted the market for documentaries.
Cable television had an appetite for them, and home video
players, which went on the market in the late 1970s,
increased viewer demand for compilation films and how-to
documentaries. The cassette format, followed by the laserdisc and the DVD, encouraged schools, libraries, and businesses to collect nonfiction films. From 2000, as
download speeds grew, the Internet was able to offer a
colossal range of documentaries, both professional and
amateur. Cat videos and prank footage recalled the appeal
of the LumiÃ¨resâ€™ actualitÃ©s.
The rise of video had a more complex effect on the
experimental cinema. Throughout the 1970s, fairly strict
lines separated avant-garde film from video art, which was
largely confined to performance pieces and gallery installations. In the early 1980s, George Kuchar and Punk filmmakers embraced video when portable cameras became
available in Beta and VHS cassette formats.
track with staged scenes illustrating the social rituals of
gay black men in America (24.59). Riggs revamped the
synthetic documentary format by scripting the commentary supplied by talking heads and voice-over choruses.
Along similar lines the Sensory Ethnography Lab at
Harvard University became a center of experimental documentary. Manakamana (2013) recalls the time blocks of
Structural Film: very long takes show passengers on a
cable car en route to a Hindu shrine, with the sweeping
landscape behind them changing gradually. Similarly, in a
steady 78-minute shot, Peopleâ€™s Park (2012) cuts a serpentine path through citizens at play and at rest.
The most daring and disorienting of the Labâ€™s efforts
was Leviathan (2012). Instead of a tidy account of the
work of fishermen on a New England trawler, the film
conjures up the giddy hallucinations announced in an
opening title: â€œThe depths churn like a boiling cauldron.â€
Using digital GoPro cameras lashed to their heads, filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor and VÃ©rÃ©na Paravel tried
to keep up with the work in the dark, heaving seas. They
anchored cameras to greasy decks and lowered them
under water. This all-out tactic captured viewpoints never
seen before, including glimpses of gulls swarming to scavenge fish from nets (Color Plate 24.17). Where traditional
documentaries seek to convey orderly ideas and emotions,
Leviathanâ€™s â€œsensory ethnographyâ€ renders a dangerous
way of life as a chaotic, tactile experience.
Film, Video, and Entry into the Museum
From the late 1960s onward, filmmakers had to acknowledge the powerful electronic media of television, cable,
24.59 A sequence of Tongues Untied illustrates
communicative finger snaps among gay African American men.
24.58 Fake Fruit Factory sometimes translates the offscreen
dialogue with titles but makes little attempt to identify
individual workers in the manner of standard documentaries.
Structural Film and After 553
Haynesâ€™s Poison (1991) cites not only Angerâ€™s Fireworks,
Genetâ€™s Chant dâ€™amour, and film noir but also soap operas
and â€œunsolved-mysteriesâ€ programs. A new genre of experimental film emerged when filmmakers began absorbing,
and sometimes criticizing, videogames (24.60). Peggy
Ahweshâ€™s She Puppet (2001) makes a feminist point with a
montage of Lara Croftâ€™s various roles, including victim of
violence (Color Plate 24.18).
Apart from shooting on digital video, many were posting their work on streaming platforms like YouTube and
Vimeo. Thousands of films were created specifically for
the Internet. The comparative ease of digital editing
allowed a steady flood of avant-garde compilation films
that relied on the Webâ€™s remix aesthetic. One of the most
engaging was Matt Bucyâ€™s Of Oz the Wizard (2016), a
re-edited version of The Wizard of Oz that pulled every
word from the filmâ€™s dialogue and then cut together the
corresponding shots in alphabetical order (24.61). The
result not only discloses the most common words in the
original but also creates its own hypnotic rhythm.
Movies in Museumsâ€ƒBrakhage, Frampton, and other
experimentalists had dreamed of joining the fine-arts world.
Why could not cinema achieve the dignity of painting and
sculpture? Why could not filmmakers sell their work as
painters sold theirs? It was not until the 1990s that art galleries began to nurture avant-garde filmmaking, although
sometimes they detached it from the traditions of experimental cinema.
As curators began to incorporate more photography and
video into their programs, museums became multimedia
spaces. The 1990s trend toward â€œinstallationâ€ art favored
Some experimentalists clung to the vanishing super8mm gauge, but, by the end of the decade, avant-garde film
and video art had grown much closer together. Festivals
exhibited the two side by side; cooperatives distributed
works in both formats and distributors made avant-garde
classics available to the general public on VHS and
DVD. Video fulfilled Brakhageâ€™s dream that average
citizens could collect experimental films to watch at home.
Experimental filmmakers, faced with the discontinuation of super-8mm and the great expense of 16mm, turned
increasingly to the video format. Structural Film continued the tradition of cinÃ©ma pur launched by Henri
Chomette and Germaine Dulac in the 1920s (p. 77). It
aimed to expose â€œfilm as filmâ€â€”its ultimate materials, its
essential procedures. Yet Michael Snow remarked in 1989,
â€œâ€˜Film as filmâ€™ is reaching its end. . . . Film will continue
as a video representation/reproduction.â€9
At the level of form and style, the two media intertwined. Some experimentalistsâ€™ song-based films had
looked forward to the music-video format: Kenneth
Angerâ€™s Scorpio Rising furnished an early model, while
Bruce Connerâ€™s Mongoloid (1978) film for Devo and
Derek Jarmanâ€™s Broken English: Three Songs by Marianne
Faithful (1979) also pointed the way. Music videos borrowed from the avant-garde tradition well into the new
century. Radioheadâ€™s Daydreaming (2016) echoed 1940s
trance films, while BeyoncÃ©â€™s Lemonade (2016) recalled
the identity quests of Maya Deren.
Since the 1980s, documentarists and avant-garde filmmakers freely incorporated television and video materials.
Stylized reenactments in The Thin Blue Line refer as much
to â€œtrue-crimeâ€ reportage as to Flahertyâ€™s restagings; Todd
24.60 Phil Solomon and Mark LaPoreâ€™s Crossroad (2005)
turns the Grand Theft Auto videogame into something more
eerie and melancholy.
24.61 For Of Oz the Wizard, each word is presented in the
chronological order of the original scenes, so that the entire
movie becomes replayed as a string of fragments.
554 CHAPTER 24â€ƒDocumentary and Experimental Film since the Late 1960s
distributed on DVD. Gallery exclusivity was pushed to a
new limit by Christian Marclayâ€™s The Clock (2010). Marclay
and his assistants scoured films for shots of clocks and surrounded them with other scavenged imagery. Marclay then
arranged the clock shots to proceed chronologically, hour
by hour and minute by minute, across one day. In projection, the twenty-four-hour video is synchronized with the
local time, so that The Clock functions as exactly what it
title says it is.
Marclay made only six copies of the film available for
sale, at about half a million dollars each. Screenings were
always heavily attended, although almost no one could
claim to have seen the entire work at one sitting. Like the
Cremaster cycle, The Clock became a rare art object.
Brakhage and Framptonâ€™s hopes for entering the temples
of the fine arts were better realized by creators already
established in the gallery scene.
However fresh many of these developments were, they
continued formal strategies established in earlier periods.
The Clock was a new variant on the associative compilation film pioneered by Joseph Cornell, Bruce Conner, and
others. Cremaster reworked poetic and mythical narratives
opened up by Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger. Leviathan
was reminiscent of Brakhageâ€™s gestural camerawork,
although now the lens was detached from the eye of the
filmmaker. Of Oz the Wizard recalls the alphabetical matrix
of Framptonâ€™s Zorns Lemma. Many of the 2000s and
2010s filmmakers were unaware of their predecessors, but
their works joined a rich, varied tradition.
From the late 1960s onward, documentary filmmakers explored various ways of analyzing society, arguing for
ideas, and pressing for political change. Some filmmakers
embraced Direct Cinema, while others adapted it to new
needs. Some criticized documentary conventions, while
others created films for a broad popular audience. Avantgardists launched the rigorous experiments of Structural
film, the dominant movement of the period. But other
filmmakers moved toward narrative forms, paracinema,
and social critique. Eventually, some mixed-media works
were more likely to end in museums than screening rooms.
Along all these dimensions, documentary and experimental cinema were flourishing well into the new century.
1. Quoted in Ira Halberstadt, â€œAn Interview with Fred
Wiseman,â€ Filmmakers Newsletter 7, no. 4 (February
2. Quoted in Thomas W. Benson and Carolyn Anderson,
Reality Fictions: The Films of Frederick Wiseman
(Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989),
collections of thematically related painting, photos, sound
fields, and moving images. Installation art brought paracinema into museums, so that Anthony McCall could recreate
Line Describing a Cone as a continuous environment.
The art world began to embrace what were called
moving-image or projected-image works, usually involving
both film and video. These pieces extended traditional
avant-garde strategies, while offering experiences that
could not be obtained in a traditional film-viewing situation. Structural filmmakers had slowed down their found
footage, but Douglas Gordonâ€™s video work 24 Hour Psycho
(1993) went much farther. Stretching Hitchcockâ€™s Psycho
to a full day, frame by frame, Gordon assumed that viewers would drift in and out of the installation, with no one
able to experience the whole.
In a gallery, a film could be part of a multimedia
ensemble. The British painter Tacita Dean devoted several
pieces to a yacht racer who failed in his efforts to sail
around the world. The installations included maps, charts,
paintings, photographs, newsreel footage, and purposemade films, as well as elaborate projection machines
designed by Dean.
Similarly, Sharon Lockhartâ€™s films shared museum
space with her large-format photographs. In Goshogaoka
(1997), six static ten-minute shots capture Japanese
schoolgirls performing exercises, some of them very repetitive, others more unpredictable (Color Plate 24.19).
Lockhartâ€™s long takes, geometrical framing, and attention
to gradually changing details owed a debt to Structural
Film, particularly to James Benningâ€™s work. But Benningâ€™s
films were screened in film festivals and college courses,
while Goshogaoka needed to be seen in relation to
Lockhartâ€™s photographs, which present the girl athletes in
oddly stiff poses drawn from sports photography. The two
media suggest contrasting concepts of time and movement.
Another gallery-based filmmaker was Matthew Barney.
The five films in his Cremaster cycle (1994â€“2002) presented
visually arresting narratives, often reminiscent of horror
films (Color Plate 24.20). They also provided obscure allegories of bits of American history, such as Gary Gilmoreâ€™s
1976 crime spree. Museums, not independent film cooperatives or college campuses, were the primary venue for the
Cremaster films. The screenings were often accompanied by
vast exhibitions of drawings, photographs, sculptures, and
even props and sets created for the films. Like Lockhart
and Dean, Barney established a network of personal motifs
across media, making the films only one aspect of a
broader aesthetic statement. At the same time, many of the
Cremaster artifacts were available for sale as fine-art pieces.
Although Cremaster played a few theaters, most gallery artistsâ€™ films would not be shown commercially or
7. Anthony McCall, â€œTwo Statements: Line Describing a
Cone,â€ in The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and
Criticism (New York: New York University Press, 1978),
8. Quoted in â€œJÃ¸rgen Leth,â€ in Mette Hjort and Ib
Bondebjerg, The Danish Directors: Dialogues on a
Contemporary National Cinema (Bristol: Intellect, 2001),
9. Quoted in International Experimental Film Congress
(Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1989), p. 42.
3. Quoted in â€œThe Act of Killing: Press Notes,â€ at http://
4. Quoted in John Anderson, â€œOf Crime and Perception at
Abu Ghraib,â€ New York Times (April 20, 2008), available
5. Hollis Frampton, â€œNotes on Composing in Film,â€ in
Circles of Confusion: Filmâ€”Photographyâ€”Video: Texts
1968â€“1980 (Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop
Press, 1983), p. 119.
6. Jonathan Walley, â€œThe Material of Film and the Idea of
Cinema: Contrasting Practices in Sixties and Seventies
Avant-Garde Film,â€ October 103 (Winter 2003): 17.
We discuss some topics in this chapter further on our blog, Observations on Film Art:
â€œErrol Morris, boy detectiveâ€
On animated documentaries: â€œShowing what canâ€™t be filmedâ€
On Phil Solomon: â€œSolomonic judgmentsâ€
â€œLewis Klahr Ã—3 Ã—4â€
â€œPaolo Gioli, maximal minimalistâ€
â€œTime pieceâ€: On Christian Marclayâ€™s The Clock
The recovery of the Hollywood industry during the 1970s (Chapter 22)
struck other countries hard. Hollywood blockbusters benefited local
exhibitors, but they threatened local production. More than ever, the problem was competing with the worldâ€™s most powerful film industry. How
could a filmmaker attract local audiences? How could a domestic film get
distributed in other countries?
Throughout Chapters 25, 26, and 27 we will see filmmakers in various
countries trying out similar strategies. Some filmmakers sought to make
entertainment for a broad local audience. They might try to imitate the US
movie product with big budgets and famous stars. Or they might differentiate the local films from Hollywood offerings, appealing to the national
culture. This approach had been used in earlier eras, as when France,
Germany, and the USSR developed stylistic movements in the 1920s
Another option was to go beyond national borders. This strategy was
most systematically taken up through coproductions, which had become
common in Western Europe during the 1960s (p. 319). The films featured
stars and staff drawn from several countries and were internationally
financed, often by government subsidies, the European Union (EU), and
Instead of aiming at a mass market, a project, whether a coproduction
or not, might target festivals and the international art-cinema market. In this
way, fresh talent might gain attention on the global scene. Just as the
Nouvelle Vague and other â€œnew wavesâ€ and â€œyoung cinemasâ€ had emerged
in the 1950s and 1960s, parallel trends surfaced in Germany, the USSR,
and elsewhere from the 1970s onward.
In the 1970s and 1980s, these strategies were most apparent in Western
Europe. After 1989, nations freed from Soviet domination sought to enter
the world cinema market. The USSR and Eastern Europe, growing closer to
NEW CINEMAS AND NEW DEVELOPMENTS:
EUROPE AND THE USSR SINCE THE 1970s
Les amants rÃ©guliers
Western Europe 557
Consequently, despite quotas, taxes, and other protectionist
measures, American films dominated Europe. In some
countries, they claimed 90 percent of the box-office take.
Europeans offered no coordinated response to these
problems. For a time, there was hope that American
financing might help the more visible auteurs. Bernardo
Bertolucci and New German directors won such support
in the 1970s. Some of the Majors established â€œclassicsâ€
divisions to distribute foreign pictures in the United
States. But with the exception of Bertolucciâ€™s scandalous
Last Tango in Paris (1973), most Hollywood-supported art
movies proved unsuccessful.
National cinemas survived thanks to the state subsidies put into place after World War II (p. 318). Governments made funds available to producers through loans,
grants, and prizes. Several countries modeled aid upon
Franceâ€™s policy of avance sur recettes (advance on receipts):
giving funding before production on the expectation of
repayment from a percentage of the filmâ€™s earnings. In
Greece, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, and Belgium, ministries
and cultural bodies made funding available. In the United
Kingdom, producersâ€™ demands on the National Film
Finance Corporation were augmented by the National
Film Development Fund, created in 1976. Governments
drew such funds from general revenues and from taxes on
tickets or license fees for televisions, VCRs, and even
State support remained fairly strong over the decades,
even during the 2008 recession. In 2013, European governments gave over $4 billion to film and television projects. In 2016, Spain established a fund of $35 million for
feature production, while Germany, one of the top EU
film industries, boosted its subsidy to $160 million. Since
a typical European budget ran less than $3 million, these
funds went a long way.
European filmmakers could also rely on coproductions. Some coproductions resulted simply from independent companies pooling resources, but most were
â€œofficialâ€ or â€œtreaty-based.â€ These allowed producers to
draw on state subsidies from two or more countries. The
prototypical â€œEurofilmâ€ might have stars from Italy,
France, and Germany, with a director from one country, a
mixed-nations crew, and location shooting in several
regions. After the collapse of the USSR in 1989â€“1991,
East-West coproductions increased.
Most films were not coproductions, but the system
was essential for ambitious projects, particularly in smaller
countries. Over the years, for example, Danish filmmakers
partnered with over fifty countries. French language films
in bilingual Belgium were heavily dependent on coproductions with France.
the West, adopted the same mix of options: seeking local
and regional appeal, imitating Hollywood or offering
something with strongly national flavor, seeking attention
at festivals, and spotlighting original younger filmmakers.
Crisis in the Industry
By the mid-1970s, Europeâ€™s postwar boom was over. In
1973, the Middle Eastâ€™s petroleum-producing countries
began raising the price of oil. This â€œoil shockâ€ created
inflation, unemployment, and a recession that lasted
throughout the decade. Politically, the appeal of left-wing
parties waned, and more conservative governments came
to power. Although the left won some victories, as with
Socialist FranÃ§ois Mitterandâ€™s 1981 election to the French
presidency, all governments faced persistent inflation and
recession. Even leftist regimes took austerity measures
that moved them closer to the center. During the same
period, however, right-wing dictatorships in Spain, Greece,
and Portugal ended and democratic reforms were
During the 1980s, Western Europeâ€™s economy restabilized. The European Community (EC) began to plan a
unified market that, with 320 million people, could compete with the United States and Japan. A European assembly, created in 1979, started to consider the possibility of a
â€œSingle Europe.â€ In 1994, the EC was renamed the EU,
with fifteen member countries; in 2002, the Euro became
the organizationâ€™s common currency. By 2016, the Union
comprised twenty-eight countries and over half a billion
The 1970s and 1980s gave the European film industry severe problems. Attendance continued to drop, and
theaters closed. Although in some countries production
increased, the figures were artificially inflated by the
growing number of pornographic films. Box-office
income rose or remained steady, but this was chiefly due
to rising ticket prices. Broadcast television and home
video were reducing film audiences. As in the United
States, a few releases gained the biggest portion of boxoffice revenues.
What theatrical income there was went largely to Hollywood. After World War II, the majors set up powerful distribution companies in Europe, ensuring US pictures the best
theaters and blocking imports from other countries. Moreover, the countries that had highly concentrated ownership
of exhibition chains (France, West Germany, and Great
Britain) welcomed the lucrative Hollywood product.
558 CHAPTER 25â€ƒNew Cinemas and New Developments: Europe and the USSR since the 1970s
abolished the quota in 1982 and the Eady levy three
years later. Government funding for film production virtually ceased. Englandâ€™s Channel 4 became a central
financier, producing about twelve films a year, including
such international successes as My Beautiful Laundrette
(1985; 25.1). The BBC gave television work to filmmakers who went on to cinema careers. It broadcast dramas
by Ken Loach, Alan Clarke, and other directors who
would push British features toward raw realism (25.2),
and it enabled Aardman Animations to find a global audience. (See box.)
The rise of commercial broadcasting did not wholly
eclipse public television. In 1992, state-sponsored
French and German channels combined to form ARTE,
a cultural-affairs channel available in five languages
across Europe. ARTE bought post-theatrical rights to
films, funded new productions, and supported restorations of classics. The channel helped produce Dancer
Between 1975 and the late 2010s, three funding strategies helped national cinemas compete with Hollywood.
Television Supportâ€ƒUp to the mid-1970s, European television was dominated by state-owned public agencies, such
as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Franceâ€™s
ORTF, and Italyâ€™s RAI. These kept out independent television companies, banned advertising, and showcased
national culture. Although some European television companies financed auteur directors in the 1960s and early
1970s, West Germany was the first country to systematically use national television to support filmmaking.
The country had no private channels and three public
ones. The Young German Film launched at the 1962
Oberhausen festival (p. 409) had suffered from cutbacks
in government funding, but in 1974 a new Film and Television Agreement offered favorable terms for joint productions. Between 1974 and 1978, government television
helped fund films to be broadcast after they had completed a theatrical run. The agreement acknowledged the
possibility that the Autorenfilm, or â€œauthorâ€™s cinema,â€
could lift television above its normal programming by
appeals to high art and national culture.
The 1974 agreement created a fresh burst of energy
and led many New German filmmakers to international
reputations and financing (see â€œNotes and Queriesâ€
online). The new arrangement also gave German women
directors their first significant chance to make features.
Other nationsâ€™ state-sponsored television agencies
took up film financing in the German mode, supplementing coproduction arrangements with government subsidy.
Soon, however, the depression of the mid-1970s and the
declining income of public broadcasting forced many governments to admit commercial channels to the airwaves.
As commercial television expanded, audiences deserted
theaters. In some countries, movie attendance dropped
Yet television also proved to be a benefactor because
the new broadcasters needed films to program. As a result,
private television firms started funding features. Italyâ€™s Silvio Berlusconi, owner of several networks, sometimes supplied 40 percent of all investment in Italian production. In
France, Canal Plus, a cable company, was required by law
to invest in production. Its production arm StudioCanal
became a major funding source for world filmmaking,
backing such hits such as AmÃ©lie (2001), Love Actually
(2003), Shaun of the Dead (2004), and The Imitation
In the United Kingdom, new state policies turned
producers toward television. Margaret Thatcherâ€™s Conservative government, adhering to a policy of privatization,
25.1 Stephen Frearâ€™s My Beautiful Laundrette was originally
intended as a television film, but its depiction of racism,
homosexuality, and class struggle led to a successful release in
theaters. Here a young Pakistani and his white lover confront a
25.2 Alan Clarke made Scum (1979), a violent study of
reformatory conditions, as a theatrical feature after the BBC
banned his television version.
Western Europe 559
TELEVISION AND AARDMAN ANIMATIONS
Aardman Animations, based in Bristol, England, began in
1976 as a small firm making commissioned shorts for television. Although its founders, Peter Lord and David Sproxton, used various animation techniques, the companyâ€™s
best-known films involved Plasticine (clay-based)
animation. In their early BBC â€œLip Syncâ€ series, Lord and
Sproxton created animated scenes using actual interviews
as soundtracks. In 1986, Aardman achieved wider fame
with Peter Gabrielâ€™s music video Sledgehammer. Aardman
branched into television advertising as well.
One of the animators for Sledgehammer was Nick
Park. His â€œLip Syncâ€ short, Creature Comforts, parodied
talking-heads documentaries by interviewing zoo animals
about their living conditions. It was so popular that it was
shown in theaters and brought Park the first of four animation Oscars. Aardmanâ€™s many other shorts included Peter
Lordâ€™s Watâ€™s Pig (1996) and Peter Peakeâ€™s Pib and Pog
(1994), a send-up of sickly sweet childrenâ€™s programs. Most
Aardman shorts were commissioned by the BBC and
Channel 4, though some premiered in theaters.
Aardmanâ€™s best-known characters, the eccentric
inventor Wallace and his put-upon dog Gromit, made their
debut in Parkâ€™s A Grand Day Out (1989). Park won Academy Awards for his next three Wallace and Gromit films.
The Wrong Trousers (1993) was a film-noir parody starring
a villainous penguin, and in A Close Shave (1995), Gromit
saves a herd of sheep. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of
the Were-Rabbit (2005) became the duoâ€™s first feature.
Each of the shorts was premiered on the BBC to record
Chicken Run (2000) moved Aardman into studio filmmaking when DreamWorks signed the firm to a five-feature
contract. Although the age of computer animation had
begun, the Aardman team stuck to Plasticine and created
elaborate scenes parodying prisoner-of-war movies (Color
Plate 25.1). Some doubted that British animation could
succeed overseas, but Chicken Run was one of Americaâ€™s
top-grossing films that year.
In 2006, the company produced its first computeranimated feature, Flushed Away, before returning to clay
animation with Arthur Christmas (2011) and other stopmotion films, including The Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015),
based on TV shorts. Park returned to features with the prehistoric comedy, Early Man (2018). Aardmanâ€™s emergence
shows dramatically how television commissions could give
European filmmakers an opportunity to reach a worldwide
audience. It also shows how films originally designed for a
local audience can achieve wider popularity.
in the Dark (Denmark, 2000), The Lives of Others
(Germany, 2006), Son of Rambow (UK, 2007), and The
Red Turtle (France, 2016).
Private Investmentâ€ƒGovernments tried to steer private
funding to cinema. A few countries offered tax-sheltered
investments. By 2004, the German tax funds were pumping
an astonishing $3 billion per year into movie production,
distribution, and marketing. France energetically launched
private investment companies too. These SociÃ©tÃ©s pour le
financement de lâ€™ industrie cinÃ©matographique et audiovisuelle (SOFICAs) offered tax-exempt investments to individuals, banks, and companies buying rights to filmsâ€™ future
earnings. By the early 1990s, 25 percent of French production funds derived from SOFICAs, and throughout the
2010s they continued to be important financiers.
Other sources of money were media conglomerates,
investment groups, and banking concerns. CrÃ©dit Lyonnais, an international bank, became a principal source of
loans to European and American companies during the
1980s. StudioCanal, Berlusconi of Italy, Prisa of Spain,
Britainâ€™s Thorn-EMI (which had absorbed the Rank
theater chain), PolyGram of the Netherlands, and
Bertelsmann of West Germany began backing films made
outside their home countries.
The European Communityâ€ƒBeyond television support
and private investment, another strategy for boosting European cinema was launched by the EC. In 1991, with its
twelve member nations looking toward integration at the
end of the century, the EU founded MEDIA, a program to
develop the continentâ€™s audiovisual industries. MEDIA
funded production projects through loans and created the
European Film Distribution Office, which offered financial
incentives for national distributors to import films. MEDIA
also founded the European Film Promotion agency, which
helped create festival events and supported filmmakers,
actors, and sales agentsâ€™ travel. In 2014, MEDIA was incorporated into the Creative Europe program, which backed
literature, libraries, translation, and other efforts beyond
film and television.
Another EC commission, Eurimages, offered an
avance sur recettes for coproductions. After its founding in
1988, Eurimages backed hundreds of films, eventually
560 CHAPTER 25â€ƒNew Cinemas and New Developments: Europe and the USSR since the 1970s
sales agents were starting to finance, produce, and distribute films. Celluloid Dreams, for instance, asked its filmmakers to collaborate on 2000 Seen By (2000) and helped
fund the Berlin prize-winner Paradise Now (2005).
Back in the 1920s, filmmakers had laid the groundwork for a Film Europe market that could compete with
the United States (p. 168). That failed. In the late 1980s,
some cross-border cooperation emerged out of the efforts
of national governments, television companies, investment
concerns, and EU agencies. But again a Film Europe did
not coalesce. Despite all the funding initiatives, production never threatened Hollywoodâ€™s dominance. By the late
2010s, American films commanded two-thirds of the EU
As if ignoring Hollywoodâ€™s dominance, industries
opted for overproduction. In 1970, nearly 900 Western
European features were released. Television competition
and recessions cut the number to about 650 through the
1980s. But then production swelled, hitting an astonishing
1300 annual releases in the 2010s. Very few of these would
be screened outside their country of origin, and almost
none would show a profit. Like museums, opera, and
other cultural institutions, filmmaking was subsidized. It
provided hundreds of thousands of jobs, and it maintained
distinctive European standards in entertainment and
National Traditions and International Trends
European popular genres maintained their stability
throughout the period. Most filmmakers aimed at their
local public, but strong genre traditions helped some films
find international audiences.
Exportable items included Italian comedy dramas
such as Bread and Chocolate (1973), Life Is Beautiful
(1997), and The Great Beauty (2013). French comedies
like Cousin Cousine (1975) and The Intouchables (2011)
proved appealing. Britain trademarked eccentric humor
in the postwar era and maintained it with the Monty
Python films and genre spoofs like Johnny English (2003)
and Hot Fuzz (2007). French cop films, with their drab
routines and resigned melancholy, held perennial appeal,
from Police Python 357 (1976) and L.627 (1992) to 36
Quai des orfÃ¨vres (2004) and Le Petit lieutenant (2005).
British crime films invoked their own shadowy tradition,
as in Mona Lisa (1986; Color Plate 25.2), Lock, Stock and
Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Croupier (1999), and Sexy
Beast (2001). German comedies were usually not export
material, but Manitouâ€™s Shoe (2001), Good Bye Lenin!
(2003), and Toni Erdmann (2016) sold briskly around the
broadening its remit to include filmmakers in Turkey and
Eastern Europe. MEDIA also supported the Europa cinema chain, a consortium of theaters pledged to screen a
certain number of European films.
Since the 1950s, coproductions and internationally
financed projects had been accused of being bland â€œEurofilms,â€ lacking any distinctive national qualities. This
expressed many Europeansâ€™ worries that a Single Europe
would iron out differences among cultures. With the entry
of the EU and the new importance of international investment and television money, worries about Eurofilms
intensified. The big international film, following the model
of the Hollywood epics of the 1950s and 1960s, was epitomized in Bertolucciâ€™s The Last Emperor (1987), but diversified financing was necessary for less grandiose projects
as well. Bille Augustâ€™s Best Intentions (1992) was wryly
described as a Swedish-Danish-Norwegian-IcelandicFinnish-British-German-French-Italian film.
The strategies outlined here overlapped; any one film
might be financed by a mix of national subsidies, coproduction, television, private capital, and EU agencies. Jaco
Van DormaÃ«lâ€™s Toto le hÃ©ros (â€œToto the Hero,â€ 1991) was
funded by the Belgian governmentâ€™s avance sur recettes, as
well as by Germanyâ€™s ZDF, French public television,
Belgian public television, and Canal Plus. Toto also benefited from MEDIA, Eurimages, and the ECâ€™s European
Script Fund. After winning a major prize at the Cannes
Film Festival, the film attracted audiences around the
world. Some observers criticized it as â€œEuropuddingâ€ or
called it Toto lâ€™Euro, but others saw it as an emblem of how
a small first feature from a minor producing country could
find an audience thanks to a package of European funding.
Synchronized with these developments were the creation of the European Film Academy, which gave annual
achievement awards modeled on the American Oscars,
and the establishment of LumiÃ¨re, a Lisbon-based agency
coordinating the activity of European archives. The European Film Promotion aimed at getting young audiences
interested in film, while festivals supported first-time filmmakers through residencies, workshops, and premieres.
The explosion of funding sources demanded new players who could master the rules. In the 1990s and 2000s,
sales agents became key players. They would find money,
plan a filmâ€™s rollout in festivals and theaters, design marketing campaigns with local distributors, and in some
cases contribute directly to the budget.
Sales agents with strong track records, such as Celluloid Dreams and Fortissimo, could reassure investors, and
they had clout with film festivals. (See Chapter 29.) Sales
agents helped filmmakers shape their films for the world
market, even suggesting that sequences be recut. Soon the
Western Europe 561
El Dorado (1988), a lavish coproduction with Italy, presented Spanish colonialism as a brutal political game.
Roman Polanski created a string of elegant thrillers and
Vittorio and Paolo Taviani, who had promoted a
humanistic, populist political cinema during the 1960s
and early 1970s, became acclaimed directors with the success of Padre Padrone (1977). They sealed their reputation
with a mythic recasting of the Neorealist tradition, Night
of the Shooting Stars (1982; Color Plate 25.3), and a luxuriant adaptation of Luigi Pirandello stories, Kaos (1984).
Good Morning Babylon (1987) returns in both theme and
structure to the romantic simplicity of the American silent
More mordant wit was on display in Ettore Scola,
who won international notice with We All Loved Each
Other So Much (Italy, 1974), a comment on the political
disillusionments of postwar Italian history. With that film,
A Special Day (1977), and Le Bal (â€œThe Ball,â€ 1983), he
offered mild experimentation and a comedy of social
observation. Le Bal is set entirely in a French dance hall
during different eras, and the whole film is played without
dialogue. Scolaâ€™s close-ups heighten the caricatural performances, and he cleverly manipulates visual design, as
when the Popular Front sequence drains all color from the
shot save that of the Communist flag (Color Plate 25.4).
The Tavianis and Scola were joined by the younger
Nanni Moretti. He began his career with anarchic, pseudounderground comedies (Ecce Bombo, 1978) before developing a brand of bemused humor devoted to a generation
confronting the failure of left-wing ideals. Moretti typically
plays a slightly neurotic hero encountering the frustrations
of modern society. In Palombella Rossa (1989), a young
Communist Party official suffers from amnesia and must
relearn correct doctrine; his naive questions satirize a
spectrum of political opinions. To add to the humor, most
of the film is set in a swimming pool during a game of
In the poignant Caro Diario (Dear Diary, 1993),
Moretti shares his pleasure in riding his Vespa through
Rome and his fear that he has a mysterious disease (25.4).
Like many filmmakers who started in the 1970s, Moretti
turned from large-scale politics to the intimacy of friendship and family devotion. Aprile (â€œApril,â€ 1998) celebrates
the birth of his child as he is planning a new movie. He
funneled his scathing attack on Berlusconi, The Caiman
(2006), through the story of a mild-mannered producer
trying to make a film on a media mogul.
France was the most visible home of the new tradition
of quality. The success of Bertrand Blier as a novelist led
him to adapt his own work in Les Valseuses (â€œThe
Throughout film history, some overseas filmmakers
have imitated Hollywood storytelling. In Europe at this
time, the most consistently successful blend of American
pacing and local culture was created by Franceâ€™s Luc
Besson. Starting out as something of an experimentalist,
he quickly turned toward commercial thrillers (Nikita,
1990; LÃ©on the Professional, 1994). He founded his own
studio, EuropaCorp, and became a â€œcreative producerâ€ on
the Hollywood model, originating a projectâ€™s concept and
script and hiring others to direct (25.3).
An International Tradition of Qualityâ€ƒThe 1970sâ€“1980s
decline in attendance and export markets, the conservatism
of investors, and competition from Hollywood drove many
producers and directors toward more accessible filmmaking. European countries concentrated on films for regional
audiences, with a hope of occasionally breaking into the US
market. To the end of the twentieth century and beyond,
most filmmaking would avoid the challenging disruptions
of political modernism (Chapter 23). The French cinema
had had its own Tradition of Quality (p. 336) and now an
international version, with literary values and viewerfriendly treatment, offered new opportunitiesâ€”even to
directors who had earlier embraced more radical styles.
On the whole, the most exportable European films
were those that carried some degree of prestige: festival
prizes, famous literary sources, or the name of a major
director. One sign of the weakening of hardcore auteurism
was the fact that established directors participated in the
new Eurofilm by creating prestige pictures. Andrzej Wajda
made films in France (Danton, 1983) and West Germany.
Ermanno Olmiâ€™s Tree of the Wooden Clogs (Italy, 1978)
marked a return to Neorealism, recreating the life of
nineteenth-century peasants in their original dialect but
also giving them the dimension of legend. Carlos Sauraâ€™s
prodigious output drew on Spanish culture: Blood Wedding
(1981), Carmen (1983), and El Amor brujo (â€œLove, the
Magician,â€ 1986) employed indigenous dance, while
25.3 Competing with American action films, Luc Besson
produced District B13 (2005), a delirious blend of gunplay,
martial arts, social criticism, and hip-hop music set among
Parisian drug gangs.
562 CHAPTER 25â€ƒNew Cinemas and New Developments: Europe and the USSR since the 1970s
The tiny country of Denmark contributed to the
quality trend with the screenplays and directorial efforts
of Anders Thomas Jensen (The Green Butchers, 2003)
and especially with a pair of women directors. Lone
Scherfig created one of Denmarkâ€™s biggest successes in
the ensemble comedy Italian for Beginners (2000) and
moved into pan-European production with Wilbur Wants
to Kill Himself (2002). Susanne Bier won acclaim with the
intimate dramas Open Hearts (2002), Brothers (2004),
and After the Wedding (2006). She probed the feelings of
guilt and inadequacy that drive couples and families
apart, often revealed in fleeting glances and gestures.
Both went on to English language productions: Scherfig
with One Day (US, 2011) and Their Finest (UK, 2016),
and Bier with Things We Lost in the Fire (US, 2007) and
Serena (US, 2014).
Socially Critical Naturalismâ€ƒReinforcing the trend
toward thoughtful, accessible cinema was a turn toward
realism. Some directors put aside the self-conscious techniques of modernism in favor of direct, often harsh portrayal of life in the raw.
In the early 1970s, the British Film Institute (BFI)
Production Board, which had been formed in 1966 and
had concentrated on independent shorts, began funding
features as well. One of the first was an autobiographical
trilogy by Bill Douglas: My Childhood (1972), My Ain
Folk (1974), and My Way Home (1977). In an elliptical,
unsentimental fashion, these trace a boyâ€™s loveless life in
a northern industrial town (25.6). At the same period,
Ken Loach began using nonprofessional actors, shooting
in a quasi-documentary style on location in the industrial
north for Kes (1969). The film depicts a boy who is
Waltzers,â€ 1974). His Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (1978)
earned an Academy Award, while Too Beautiful for You
(1989) won prizes both at home and abroad. Similarly, the
critic-turned-director Bernard Tavernier evoked the golden
years of the postwar French cinema by hiring Jean
Aurenche (p. 337) as scenarist and by making such films
as Un Dimanche Ã la campagne (â€œSunday in the Country,â€
1984) in homage to Jean Renoir. Tous les matins du monde
(All the Mornings of the World, 1991), by Alain Corneau,
portrayed seventeenth-century court life through exquisite
baroque music. Olivier Assayas, former editor of Cahiers
du cinÃ©ma and son of a prestigious screenwriter, revamped
romantic realism in films such as Fin aoÃ»t, dÃ©but septembre
(â€œEnd of August, Beginning of September,â€ 1999).
Other directors contributed astringent personal dramas to the trend. The indefatigable Eric Rohmer alternated such Europroductions as Triple Agent (2004) with
his trademark social comedies such as Autumn Tale
(1998). Philippe Garrel, a practiced director of elegant,
subdued studies of couples (e.g., La Naissance de lâ€™amour,
â€œThe Birth of Love,â€ 1993), attracted fresh attention with
Les Amants rÃ©guliers (â€œRegular Lovers,â€ 2005), which concentrated on young people caught up in sex, opium, and
the revolt of May 1968 (25.5). A newer talent, Arnold
Desplechin, worked in a similar vein in Kings and Queen
(2004), while FranÃ§ois Ozon broke through with tense
dramas like Swimming Pool (2003) and ventured into prestigious historical fiction with Frantz (2016).
The Spaniard Victor Erice made more modest films,
but they attracted attention for their calm beauty and their
exploration of childhood as a time of fantasy and mystery.
Spirit of the Beehive (1972), set in 1930s Spain, follows a
little girl who believes that the resistance fighter she hides
is a counterpart to the monster from Frankenstein. El Sur
(â€œThe South,â€ 1983) is centered on an adolescent who discovers her fatherâ€™s love affair.
25.4 Poking fun at his own health problems, Moretti is
checked by two physicians in Caro Diario.
25.5 Les amants rÃ©guliers: in May 1968, students wearing
motorcycle helmets take to the barricades in a battle with police.
Western Europe 563
to be an abortionist. Mr. Turner (2014) showed the painter
caught between the art world and working-class life.
In France, Jean Eustache offered a withering portrait
of the self-centered young male, lying and quarreling his
way through womenâ€™s lives, in The Mother and the Whore
(1972; 25.8). Maurice Pialatâ€™s Nous ne vieillirons pas
ensemble (â€œWe Wonâ€™t Grow Old Together,â€ 1972) and
Passe ton bac dâ€™abord (â€œFirst Get Your Degree,â€ 1978)
depict middle-class problems such as divorce, unwanted
children, and cancer. Pialatâ€™s brand of domestic realism
won international acceptance in Loulou (1980) and Ã€ nos
amours (1983), a story of a girlâ€™s coming of age in an era
of sexual liberation (25.9). Something of the elegant gravity of 1950s French Quality productions came through in
his Sous le soleil de Satan (1987) and Van Gogh (1991),
where sometimes shocking violence is handled
The continental tradition of naturalistic observation
continued in Erick Zoncaâ€™s The Dream Life of Angels
(1998) and Bruno Dumontâ€™s Lâ€™HumanitÃ© (1999). The
most prolific new naturalists of the 1990s were the Belgian
brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. The Dardennes
focused on the bottom rungs of society, examining in
unflinching terms how poverty, crime, and violence warp
peopleâ€™s values. Rosetta (1999) shows a girl driven to
crime by unemployment and an alcoholic mother. In Le
Fils (â€œThe Son,â€ 2002), a lonely carpenter takes a teenage
miserable in school but becomes fascinated with training
a falcon (25.7). Over the next forty years, Loach would
stubbornly maintain the British tradition of workingclass realism in Riff-Raff (1990), Land and Freedom
(1995), The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006), and I,
Daniel Blake (2016).
The BFI also funded the first film of theater director
Mike Leigh, Bleak Moments (1971), a story of a female
office worker living with her mentally handicapped sister.
It mixed sad, amusing, and quiet incidents in a manner
that was to become typical of Leighâ€™s work. His subsequent dialogue-based depictions of working-class life, produced by the BBC and later Channel 4, balance humor
and pathos in depicting social problems, as in Life Is Sweet
(1991). Naked (1993) takes a much bleaker look at poverty in modern Britain through the eyes of an intelligent
but violent man.
In 2000, Leigh surprised his admirers with Topsy-Turvy,
a ripe portrayal of London in the 1880s, when W. S. Gilbert
and Arthur Sullivan were mounting the operetta The Mikado
(Color Plate 25.5). Despite the musical numbers and lush
design, however, Leigh stuck to realism by displaying authentic reconstructions of Victorian stagecraft and by injecting
critical references to British imperialism, slum conditions,
and the treatment of women. He returned to sympathetic
depictions of ordinary Britons with such films as Vera Drake
(2004), about a kindly woman in 1950s Britain who happens
25.6, left My Childhood
explores the small events of
youth as the heroâ€™s brother
rushes to stand exultantly in
the smoke above a passing
25.7, right The hero of Kes
shows a flicker of interest in
school: asked to tell about his
pet falcon, he writes falconry
terms on the board.
25.8, left Jean-Pierre LÃ©aud
(Antoine Doinel of The 400
Blows) as the shifty and selfish
protagonist of Eustacheâ€™s The
Mother and the Whore.
25.9, right Ã€ nos amours:
Sandrine Bonnaire as the
middle-class teenager avid for
564 CHAPTER 25â€ƒNew Cinemas and New Developments: Europe and the USSR since the 1970s
through the Fascist era (Lili Marlene) to the rise of postwar Germany (Maria Braun; Veronika Voss, 1981; Lola).
Yet Fassbinder did not wholly abandon his experimental
impulses. Postdubbing allowed him to make his
soundtracks no less baroque than the settings. In a Year of
13 Moons (1978) and The Third Generation (1979) overlaid radio broadcasts, television commentary, and conversations to wrap his characters in a barrage of media noise.
A more glum and minimalist critic of the status quo
was Finlandâ€™s Aki KaurismÃ¤ki. He won worldwide notice
with the Wenders-like Ariel (1989) and the Bressonian
Match Factory Girl (1989). His cruel deadpan mockery,
born partly of a passion for hard-rock music, is most
unadulterated in Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989),
while it is tempered with ironic sentiment in Vie de bohÃ¨me
(â€œBohemian Life,â€ 1991), The Man Without a Past (2002),
and Lights in the Dusk (2006). KaurismÃ¤kiâ€™s celebration of
naÃ¯ve, passive losers (25.12), his wide-ranging film references, and his satire of middle-class values made him a
cult director across Europe.
After debuting with a bloody comic thriller, Shallow
Grave (1994), the Englishman Danny Boyle made his
reputation as a bad boy with the raucous Trainspotting
(1996). It laced Heroin Chic with grotesque humor and
manic shock scenes, casually dismissing just-say-no moralism. Doyleâ€™s wide-angle lenses, fashionably shabby
sets, and one-line insults were like designer graffiti
25.10, left The wavering
camera captures a young thief
who has just told his girlfriend
what has happened to their
baby (Lâ€™Enfant, 2005).
murderer as his assistant, while Lâ€™Enfant (2005) centers on
a young thief who will not accept responsibility for his
baby. Like many realists, the Dardennes favor the casualness of the handheld camera, so that loose, uncalculated
framings affirm the actuality of what is shown (25.10).
Loach, Leigh, Dumont, and the Dardennes remained
powerful forces in European cinema throughout the
2010s, demonstrating the continuing appeal of unvarnished realism. Alongside them emerged social-comment
films like Abdellatif Kechicheâ€™s Blue Is the Warmest Color
(France, 2013). This drama of young women exploring
their lesbian identity kept alive the 1960s precept that â€œthe
personal is political.â€ Matteo Garroneâ€™s Gomorrah (2008)
was based on a journalistic exposÃ© of the Neapolitan
mafia. Shooting in rundown neighborhoods with largely
unknown performers, the film traces how a web of corruption connects several men. It recalls Neorealism in its
focus on what ordinary people must do to survive, but it
also displays the network-narrative plotting that was
emerging among European filmmakers.
Rebels, More or Less Charmingâ€ƒThe upscale Eurofilm
could accommodate some social critique, though nothing
as radical in subject or form as was seen in the era of politicized modernism. After New German Cinema had won
respect around the world, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
stepped onto the international stage with big-budget films
featuring renowned stars. His bitter dramas (p. 521) gave
way to large-scale coproductions following the success of
The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978). Lili Marlene (1980),
Lola (1981), and Querelle (1982) employ the resources of
color, costume, soft focus, and spectacle to stylize the charactersâ€™ worlds: unrealistic strips of pink light falling across a
face (Lola) or a tangerine glow emanating from a wharf
(Querelle). Extreme close-ups of historically exact details
interrupt the action of Maria Braun (25.11).
Fassbinder continued the vein of socially critical
melodramas he had explored earlier, but in more muted
and accessible form. Determined to remind his viewers of
the Nazi past, he presented an epic history of Germany,
from the 1920s (Bolweiser and Despair, both 1977)
25.11, right A pack of
cigarettes evokes the privations
of postwar Germany in The
Marriage of Maria Braun.
25.12 Another KaurismÃ¤ki loser: a night watchman is
infatuated with a woman who sets him up as an accomplice in a
jewel robbery (Lights in the Dusk, 2006).
Western Europe 565
made him an emblem of the creativity of European cinema.
The young rebel became a benevolent elder statesman.
The Return of Art-Cinema Modernismâ€ƒExperimental
political modernism did not entirely vanish. Alexander
Kluge, after his more straightforward narrative Strongman
Ferdinand (West Germany, 1975), returned to fragmented
historical allegories that inquired into the continuing effects
of Nazism and the war (25.14). Jean-Marie Straub and
DaniÃ¨le Huillet continued to make both static, text-centered
films (Fortini/Cani, 1976; Too Early, Too Late, 1981) and
narratively oriented literary adaptations (25.15). The StraubHuillet approach was revived by Pedro Costa, who documented the lives of the Portuguese underclass in the solemn
long takes of Ossos (1997) and Colossal Youth (2006).
More playfully, the Chilean exile RaÃºl Ruiz created labyrinthine modernist puzzles. La Vocation suspendu (â€œThe
Suspended Vocation,â€ 1977) purports to present two unfinished films, one intercut with the other, about intrigues
within a religious order. Memory of Appearances: Life Is a
Dream (1987) drops a political agent into a dictatorship
where police interrogate suspects behind the screen of a
movie theater (25.16). Ruiz went on to make lavish
compared to the rough-edged realism of Loach and
Leigh (Color Plate 25.6). Boyle became a mainstream
director who found recognition in the Oscars won by
Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
Perhaps the most extreme shift to the mainstream was
seen in the career of the Spaniard Pedro AlmodÃ³var. He
moved from gay underground films to top-tier productions
that fused melodrama, suspense, camp, and sex comedy.
AlmodÃ³var achieved notoriety with the sex farce Women
on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988; 25.13), but his
later films turned toward melodramas. Like Fassbinder,
AlmodÃ³var admired Douglas Sirk, and he began to mount
convoluted plots of erotic rivalries, both gay and straight,
and pathetic twists of fate. The Flower of My Secret (1995)
centers on an intellectual woman who secretly writes
trashy romances. All About My Mother (1999) builds an
unlikely family out of a single mother, a pregnant nun, a
transvestite prostitute, and an HIV-infected baby. Through
a cascade of flashbacks, Julietta (2016) traces a widowâ€™s
search for reconciliation with her daughter.
In AlmodÃ³varâ€™s world, nuns become heroin addicts
(Sisters of Night, aka Dark Habits, 1983), a downtrodden
wife slays her husband with a hambone (What Have I
Done to Deserve This?, 1984), a newscaster confesses to
murder on television (High Heels, 1991), a woman is
attracted to a man because he slays bulls (Matador, 1986),
and another falls for a man who has abducted her (Tie Me
Up! Tie Me Down!, 1989). As in Luis BuÃ±uel, scandalous
situations and imagery are handled with a casual lightness. The Skin I Live In (2011) has a premise suitable for a
cheap horror movie, but it is rendered in elegant sets and
revels in playfully sinister time shifts. AlmodÃ³var also parodies other movies, as in the delirious silent-film pastiche
in Talk to Her (2002).
Like Sirk and Fassbinder, AlmodÃ³var decorated his
scenes with ripe color design (Color Plate 25.7). His visual
inventiveness and his warm direction of female performers
25.14 In Klugeâ€™s Female Patriot (1979), a persistent researcher,
sickle in hand, exhumes the German past.
25.15 Characteristically static framings and a range of
performance styles in Straub and Huilletâ€™s Class Relations (1983).
25.13 Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: comedy
on the edge of hysteria.
566 CHAPTER 25â€ƒNew Cinemas and New Developments: Europe and the USSR since the 1970s
but the fierce melancholy of The Green Room (1978)
proved less popular. Alain Resnais became increasingly
concerned with exposing the artifices of storytelling, often
with a light touch seldom displayed in his official masterpieces Hiroshima mon amour and Muriel. In Mon oncle
dâ€™AmÃ©rique (â€œMy American Uncle,â€ 1980) human beingsâ€™
careers illustrate theories of animal behavior (25.17). Providence (1976), with its scenes halted and revised partway
through, lays bare the arbitrariness of fictional plotting.
Several younger directors sustained the new panEuropean modernism. In England, Nicholas Roeg, a distinguished cinematographer, made his reputation with the
ambiguous, aggressive Performance (1970) before creating
Resnais-like flashes of subjectivity in Donâ€™t Look Now
(1974; 25.18) and Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession
(1985). From the experimental realm came Peter Greenaway, who moved squarely into the art cinema with The
Draughtsmanâ€™s Contract (1982), coproduced by Channel 4
and the BFI. A lush seventeenth-century costume drama,
The Draughtsmanâ€™s Contract (Color Plate 25.9) retains the
gamelike labyrinths of Greenawayâ€™s early films (p. 547) in
adaptations of literary classics (Mysteries of Lisbon, 2010)
alongside characteristically puzzling projects (Night Across
the Street, 2012).
Of all directors in the tradition of political modernism, one gained special prominence in the 1970s and
1980s. The Greek Theo Angelopoulos replaced Michelangelo Antonioni and MiklÃ³s JancsÃ³ as the doyen of the
long-take approach to film style. As in his Traveling Players
(1975; p. 514), he played time-shifting games with history
and memory, but his commitment to landscape represented a monumental version of the postwar modernist
tradition. His distant camera emphasizes characters moving through vast spaces. The surroundings may shape the
action, or might contrast with itâ€”as when a lengthy long
shot intensifies the shocking rape of the adolescent girl in
Landscape in the Mist (1988; Color Plate 25.8).
When Angelopoulos moved toward personal, psychologically driven tales, those remained situated within the
social context of a changing Europe, a land of massive
immigration and unsettled national identities. Voyage to
Cythera (1984) shows an elderly Communist exile returned
to Greece. In Landscape in the Mist, children leave home
in search of the father they believe to be in Germany,
while The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991) centers on a
famous novelist who abandons middle-class comforts for
the precarious life of a refugee.
Despite the work of the few political modernists and
the many feminist filmmakers, most significant European
films avoided the direct engagement with political issues
that had characterized the period from 1965 to 1975.
Established directors continued to produce moderately
modernist films for the international market. FranÃ§ois
Truffaut, for instance, won great success with La Nuit
amÃ©ricain (Day for Night, 1973) and The Last Metro (1980),
25.16 Ruiz accentuates the cryptic narrative of Memory of
Appearances: Life Is a Dream with colossal wide-angle shots.
25.17 The rat race as a fight between executive mice in Mon
25.18 The heroâ€™s glimpse of his mourning wife and two
mysterious women may be a fantasy or a premonition of the
future in Donâ€™t Look Now.
Western Europe 567
Degrees of Separationâ€ƒIf one narrative strategy typifies
the ambitious European art film of the 2000s, it is the network narrative. Tales of intersecting lives were not new or
unique; Altman had explored the format in Nashville (1975)
and US filmmakers picked up the idea in the 1990s. But the
concept of crisscrossing character destinies became quite
common in modern European cinema. Sometimes, as in
Happenstance (France, 2000), it was a matter of creating
social comedy through romantic coincidences. A more
satiric comedy was possible as well, as shown by Cesc Gay
(In the City, Spain, 2003).
Other comic dimensions of the European network
narrative were revealed by Otar Iosseliani. Emigrating
from Soviet Georgia to France, he produced films of wry
fantasy. In Favorites of the Moon (1984), Russian exiles
wander through Paris, caught up in gang wars and love
affairs (25.19). Chasing Butterflies (1992) satirizes efforts
to modernize the countryside. Farewell Home Sweet Home
(1999) is a tangled tale of an aristocratic family that
clashes with small-town neighbors. Iosseliani was influenced by Jacques Tati, not only in his dry physical humor
but also in his use of sustained long shots packed with
intersecting characters, often silent. â€œAs soon as I see a
film that begins with a series of shots and reverse shots,
with lots of dialogue and well-known actors, I leave the
room immediately. Thatâ€™s not the work of a film artist.â€1
Usually, the network narrative was used for serious
reflections on chance, fate, and cultural differences. In Night
Shapes (Germany, 1999), characters of different social
classes meet and diverge during a single night. Les Passagers
(France, 1999) follows the overlapping destinies of riders
on a city tram. Any Way the Wind Blows (Belgium, 2003)
gradually assembles several people at a party where a mysterious plague may be festering; the major characters mingle
in a spasmodic dance (Color Plate 25.11). Sometimes the
tracing how an artist discovers the secrets of a wealthy
family. Elaborate conceits underlie Greenawayâ€™s later
work, as when he systematically works numerals into the
settings of his dark sex comedy Drowning by Numbers
(1988) or brings to life the twenty-four texts of Prosperoâ€™s
Books (1991), a free adaptation of Shakespeareâ€™s The
Less fussily geometrical but more informed by personal feeling were the works of Englishman Terence
Davies. Daviesâ€™s early autobiographical films combine a
post-1968 sense of the political implications of personal
experience with a facility in art-cinema conventions.
Thanks to BFI production initiatives, Davies broke
through to international markets with Distant Voices, Still
Lives (1988). Here the anguish of family life under a psychopathic, abusive father is tempered by the love shared
among mother, daughters, and son. The painful material
is intensified by a rigorous, rectilinear style akin to Akermanâ€™s in Jeanne Dielman. Davies dwells on empty hallways and thresholds and treats family encounters and
sing-alongs as if they were portrait sittings (Color Plate
25.10). In The Long Day Closes (1992), a more lush style
recreates the bittersweet atmosphere in a family after the
fatherâ€™s death. Slow camera movements, dissolves synchronized with lighting changes, and bridging songs slide
the action imperceptibly from one time to another and
between fantasy and reality.
The use of flashbacks in Daviesâ€™s films typified a
trend that remained robust from the 1970s into the 2010s.
Directors often returned to the sort of free-floating time
shifts pioneered by Fellini, BuÃ±uel, and others. Lars von
Trierâ€™s The Element of Crime (Denmark, 1983) and Europa
(aka Zentropa, Germany, 1991) sketch ominous landscapes hovering between history and dream. Michael
Hanekeâ€™s CachÃ© (â€œHidden,â€ 2005) returned to the teasing
flashbacks and the ambiguities of point of view characteristic of postwar auteurs. Like Antonioni in Blow-Up,
Haneke used visual recording (here, a videotape) to create
a psychological detective story, but one whose central
crime lies buried in Franceâ€™s colonial history.
Other directors drew on popular culture to make the
formal games more audience-friendly. Jaco van DormaÃ«lâ€™s
Toto le hÃ©ros creates a Resnais-like interplay between reality, memory, and fantasy but leavens it with sprightly
music and scenes of childhood television viewing. Tom
Tykwerâ€™s Run Lola Run (Germany, 1998) offers its heroine alternative fates in three parallel universes, all shot in
music-video style and set to a techno beat. Cristoffer Boeâ€™s
Reconstruction (Denmark, 2003) updated Resnais for the
age of Google Maps, showing variants of a coupleâ€™s
romantic encounter in different areas of a city.
25.19 In a typical distant framing, Iosseliani shows a
mysterious transaction: a society woman visits a shop that
makes bombs (Favorites of the Moon).
568 CHAPTER 25â€ƒNew Cinemas and New Developments: Europe and the USSR since the 1970s
Long,â€ 1982) is a cross section of a single night in which
nearly three dozen couples meet, wait, quarrel, make love,
and part (Color Plate 25.12). The Golden 80s (aka Window
Shopping, 1983) offers a high-gloss musical in the Demy
manner, with romantic intrigues crisscrossing a shopping
mall, bubbly song numbers, and bitter reflections on sexual
stratagems. Nuit et jour (â€œNight and Day,â€ 1991) is something of a feminist rethinking of the Nouvelle Vague, as if
the love triangle of Jules and Jim were told from the womanâ€™s point of view. In all these, the fragmented narrative of
the postwar art cinema enables Akerman to dwell on
casual encounters and accidental epiphanies, as well as her
consistent interest in womenâ€™s work and their desire for
love and physical pleasure.
Women directors created a virtual wing of the New
German Cinema, thanks partly to the ambitious funding
programs launched by television and government agencies. Von Trotta was only the most visible representative
of a boom in films that used art-cinema strategies to investigate womenâ€™s issues. For example, Helke Sander was a
student activist in 1968 and a cofounder of the German
womenâ€™s liberation movement. After several short films
linked to the womenâ€™s movement, Sander made The AllAround Reduced Personality: Redupers (1978), the story of
network connections are accompanied by a juggling of time,
as in InterMission (UK, 2004). On a more massive scale,
Lucas Belvauxâ€™s Trilogy (Belgium, 2002) spreads the network principle across three films, which replay key events
from different charactersâ€™ viewpoints.
The network plot suited international coproductions,
which favored actors and locations from different countries; thematically, it could suggest affiliations within the
new Europe. Characters hook up between East and West
in Crash Test Dummies (Germany, 2005), while the meat
of a butchered bull brings together people in France and
Spain in Carnages (2002). At a limit, the characters might
simply be linked by current events; One Day in Europe
(Germany, 2005) presents several stories whose actions
are synchronized to a World Cup match. Although the
network narrative became less prominent in the 2010s, it
was for a time what the flashback-based film had been for
the cinema of the 1960sâ€”a primary convention to be
explored for its formal and thematic possibilities.
New Women Filmmakersâ€ƒAs political commitment
turned from revolutionary aspirations to micropolitics (see
p. 484), the 1970s and 1980s saw female filmmakers gain
wider recognition. They participated in all the various
trends we have been observing. In the popular cinema, the
Italian Lina Wertmuller, the German Doris DÃ¶rrie, and the
French Diane Kurys and Colline Serreau found success
with comedies centering on womenâ€™s friendship and malefemale tensions. Women created many network narratives,
including Carnages (Delphine Gleize, Spain), Free Radicals
(Barbara Albert, Austria, 2003), Festival (Annie Griffin,
Scotland, 2005), Nosotras (Judith Collel, Spain, 2000), and
Selon Charlie (Nicole Garcia, France, 2006).
Other women directors used art-cinema conventions
more stringently. Two major examples are Marguerite
Duras and Margarethe von Trotta (see box). Another is
AgnÃ¨s Varda, who won a major prize at the Venice festival
with Sans toit ni loi (â€œHomeless and Lawless,â€ aka
Vagabond, 1985). Through the countryside tramps an enigmatic young woman, self-destructively bent on living in an
unorthodox way. The film obeys the art-cinema norm of
flashing back from the investigation of Monaâ€™s death to her
life in the past. Varda traces Monaâ€™s breakdown with a
spare, detached camera technique (25.20) that suggests
both respect for her self-reliance and a sense of a life wasted.
In line with the move toward more accessible filmmaking, Chantal Akerman followed her demanding Jeanne
Dielmann (1975, p. 514) with films closer to familiar models. Les Rendez-vous dâ€™Anna (â€œAnnaâ€™s Appointments,â€
1978) follows a filmmaker through Europe in a female version of the road movie (25.21). Toute une nuit (â€œAll Night
25.20 Directorial detachment in Vagabond: while the yuppie
researcher complains to his wife, the protagonist Mona
collapses in the background.
25.21 The road movie, filmed in Akermanâ€™s dry, rectilinear
manner (Les Rendez-vous dâ€™Anna).
Western Europe 569
DURAS, VON TROTTA, AND THE EUROPEAN ART CINEMA
Two women directors exemplify several trends of the
1970s and 1980s. Marguerite Duras, a major novelist,
wrote film scripts, most notably for Hiroshima mon amour
(1959). She began directing in 1966 with DÃ©truire dit-elle
(Destroy, She Said, 1969), followed by Nathalie Granger
(1973), Le Camion (â€œThe Truck,â€ 1977), and India Song
(1975), among others.
Durasâ€™s writing had ties to the avant-garde Nouveau
Roman (â€œNew Novelâ€), and she carried literary conceptions
of experiment over to her films much as Jean Cocteau and
Alain Robbe-Grillet had earlier. Like Germaine Dulac, Maya
Deren, and AgnÃ¨s Varda, though, she also explored a
â€œfeminine modernism.â€ Her slow, laconic films, using static
images and minimal dialogue, search for a distinctively
female use of language. Duras also developed a private
world set in Vietnam during the 1930s. In novels, plays,
and films she told overlapping stories about colonial diplomats and socialites entangled in love affairs.
India Song remains a landmark of 1970s modernist
cinema. It is set mostly in a French embassy in Vietnam,
during a long evening party. Couples dance to languid tangos, drifting through the frame or gliding across the huge
mirror that dominates the sitting room (25.22). But we
never see anyone speaking. Anonymous voices seem to
be commenting on the image, even though the voices are
in the present and the action occurs in the past. Moreover,
most of the dramatic actionâ€”seduction, betrayal, and
suicideâ€”takes place offscreen or in the mirror.
India Song is an experiment in sustained tempo:
Duras timed every gesture and camera movement with a
stopwatch. We cannot be sure whether the action we see
actually took place or is a kind of imaginary staging of the
charactersâ€™ relations. Murmurs on the soundtrack suggest
that the party is crowded, but the static long shots show
only the main characters. The film pulls the spectator into
a hypnotic reverie while also meditating upon the insular
routines of colonialist life.
Margarethe von Trotta belonged to a younger generation. Born in 1942, she worked as an actress in several
Young German films. She married Volker SchlÃ¶ndorff in
1971 and collaborated with him on several films. The popular success of their codirected effort, The Lost Honor of
Katherina Blum (1975), enabled von Trotta to direct several
films herself, notably The Second Awakening of Christa
Klages (1977), The German Sisters (1981), Rosa Luxembourg (1986), and Three Sisters (1988). To the international
tradition of quality, she contributed an epic survey of postwar German life in The Promise (1995) and a biography of
a German philosopher in Hannah Arendt (2012).
Not as experimental as Duras, von Trotta exploits
more accessible conventions of the art cinema in order
to examine womenâ€™s problems. Her earliest works show
women breaking out of their domestic roles and becoming scandalous public figures: Katherina Blum aids a terrorist on the run; Christa Klages becomes a bank robber.
Von Trottaâ€™s later films concentrate on the conflicting
pulls of work roles, family ties, and sexual love. She is
keenly interested in the ways in which mothers, daughters, and sisters, sharing key moments of family history,
slip into situations in which they exercise power over one
Sisters, or the Balance of Happiness (1979), for example, contrasts two women. The crisp, efficient Maria is an
executive secretary geared to career advancement. Her
younger sister Anna, halfheartedly pursuing a degree in
biology, lives in her imagination, lingering over memories
of childhood. Anna commits suicide, partly because of
Mariaâ€™s demand that she succeed. Maria responds by finding a substitute sister, a typist whom she tries to mold into
a professional. Eventually, however, Maria realizes that she
has been too rigid: â€œI will attempt to dream in the course of
my life. I will endeavor to be Maria and Anna.â€
Fassbinder would have turned Sisters into a sinister
melodrama of domination, but von Trotta refuses to portray Maria as a monster. Von Trotta balances point of view
to create a gradual shift of sympathies. At first, the audience enters Annaâ€™s memories and reveries (25.23) and
stays at a distance from Maria. After Annaâ€™s suicide, von
Trotta takes us into Mariaâ€™s guilt-ridden mind. At the end,
the characteristic art-cinema blend of memories, fantasies,
and ambiguous images suggests that Maria envisions the
mysterious forest that had formed part of Annaâ€™s daydreams. This is â€œthe balance of happiness.â€
25.22 The parlor mirror in India Song: class relations doubled.
570 CHAPTER 25â€ƒNew Cinemas and New Developments: Europe and the USSR since the 1970s
The two directorsâ€™ uses of mirrors neatly encapsulate
the differences in their approaches. The luxurious geometry of India Songâ€™s parlor illustrates Durasâ€™s emphasis on
form, with the mirror sometimes resembling a window to
another realm (25.24). Durasâ€™s experimental impulses led
her into esoteric explorations of sound and image relations. Son nom de Venise dans Calcutta dÃ©sert (â€œHer
Name, Venice, in the Desert of Calcutta,â€ 1976) contains
India Songâ€™s entire soundtrack but shows completely different shots of the embassy, all empty of human presence.
Thirty of the forty-five minutes of Lâ€™Homme atlantique
(â€œThe Atlantic Man,â€ 1981) consist of a black screen.
By contrast, von Trottaâ€™s mirrors link and contrast characters, intensifying story issues (25.25). â€œIf there is such a thing
at all as a female form of aesthetics in film, it lies for me in the
choice of themes, in the attentiveness as well, the respect, the
sensitivity, the care, with which we approach the people weâ€™re
presenting.â€2 Rarefied formal experiment of the Duras sort
would prove increasingly uncommon as filmmakers such as
von Trotta turned toward more accessible subjects and style.
25.23 Mirrors define Annaâ€™s fantasy world in Sisters, or the
Balance of Happiness. Here, she recalls herself and Maria
putting on lipstick as children.
25.25 After Annaâ€™s death, von Trotta presents her â€œhauntingâ€
of Maria through a hallucinatory mirror vision (Sisters, or the
Balance of Happiness).
25.24 Mirror as window, playing perceptual tricks (India Song).
DURAS, VON TROTTA, AND THE EUROPEAN ART CINEMA, continued
Western Europe 571
He often celebrated the encounter of people with the
sheer physicality of the world. In Land of Silence and
Darkness (1971), blind and deaf people visit a cactus
farm and take their first airplane trip. Film images, Herzog believed, should return people to the world as it is,
but as we seldom see it. â€œThatâ€™s why I want to make
films. . . . I want to show things that are inexplicable
To increase this sense of mystery, Herzog conjured up
bizarre images, often suspending the narrative. The camera observes impassively as an empty car circles a barnyard while a little man laughs maniacally. Conquistadors
floating through the Peruvian jungle stare at a ship nestled
in a treetop. A door about to close mysteriously stops, and
this tiny event becomes an occasion for contemplation.
Herzogâ€™s images open onto the infinite through
visions of water, mists, and skies (25.27). In the opening
of Heart of Glass, clouds flow like boiling rivers through
mountain valleys. Periodically, Aguirre contemplates the
a photographer who shows unofficial images of West
Berlin and encounters opposition to publishing them.
Directors dramatized childhood fantasy, adolescent
pangs, and youthful romance. Catherine Breillat offered
audacious studies in female desire in Romance (1999)
and Fat Girl (2001). Lesbian director CÃ©line Sciamma
specialized in films about teenage girls exploring their
developing identities (Water Lilies, 2007; Tomboy, 2011;
Girlhood, 2014). But women directors were not confined
to feminist concerns. Claire Denis, who tackled brothersister relations in NÃ©nette et Boni (1996), turned her
attention to masculine fantasies of heroism in the sumptuous Beau Travail (â€œNice Work,â€ 1999; Color Plate
25.13) and to the legacy of French colonialism in Africa
(White Material, 2009). Working in a variety of genres,
Denis became one of the most important French
In 1970, very few female directors could be found in
Western Europe. By 2012, nearly 18 percent of releases
were by women. This was still a small amount, but compared to other regions of the world it seemed remarkable.
The Arresting Image
From the 1970s to the present, many European filmmakers sought to give their films a captivating surface. The
New Hollywoodâ€™s hyperkinetic display of chases, explosions, and special effects was paralleled by European
directorsâ€™ efforts to absorb the spectator in a rapt contemplation of a beautiful or startling image.
Herzog, Wenders, and Sensibilist Cinemaâ€ƒTwo
Munich-based directors manifested this pictorialism in the
early 1970s: Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders. Trusting to
the beauty of the image and the sensitivity of the viewer,
they turned away from the political concerns of other New
German filmmakers. Their introspective â€œsensibilistâ€ styles
were in tune with a â€œnew inwardnessâ€ trend in German literature of the period.
Herzog made his reputation with a string of cryptic
dramas: Signs of Life (1968), Even Dwarfs Started Small
(1970), Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Every Man for
Himself and God Against All (aka The Enigma of Kaspar
Hauser) (1975), and Heart of Glass (1976). All flaunt
Herzogâ€™s highly romantic sensibility. He fastens on the
heroic achiever (the conquistador Aguirre out to rule a
continent; 25.26), the marginal and innocent (dwarfs, the
feral child Kaspar Hauser), and the mystic (the entire
community in Heart of Glass).
Herzog sought to capture the immediacy of experience, a purity of perception unhampered by language.
25.26 Aguirre, the Wrath of God: the conquistador, holding
his dead daughter, still vows to find the seven cities of gold.
25.27 The final images of Heart of Glass illustrate a characterâ€™s
parable about men who set out for the edge of the world.
572 CHAPTER 25â€ƒNew Cinemas and New Developments: Europe and the USSR since the 1970s
Wendersâ€™s Himmel Ã¼ber Berlin (â€œHeavens over Berlin,â€
aka Wings of Desire, 1987) again searches for the overwhelmingly concreteâ€”this time by means of the angel
Damiel, who is captivated by the transient beauty of the
world. He decides to join the human race; like Dorothy
entering Oz, he falls into a world of color (Color Plate
25.15). He eventually unites with a trapeze artist, while
his fellow angel must watch from the celestial, black-andwhite world. Yet this initiation into the everyday is a fall
into narrative and history, emblematically represented by
Homer, the elderly storyteller who links Berlin to its past.
Wings of Desire is dedicated to â€œall the old angels, especially Yasujiro [Ozu], FranÃ§ois [Truffaut], and Andrei
[Tarkovsky]â€â€”all directors who reconciled narrative significance with pictorial beauty.
France: The CinÃ©ma du Lookâ€ƒIn France, the new pictorialism surfaced in an uncharacteristic film by Eric Rohmer,
Perceval le gallois (1978; 25.28). It emerged in a glossier
form in AndrÃ© TÃ©chinÃ©â€™s Barocco (1976), a pastiche of film
noir. Jacques Demyâ€™s â€œmusical tragedyâ€ Un Chambre en ville
(â€œA Room in Town,â€ 1982) presents saturated colors and
busy wallpaper patterns that frame a grim story of loversâ€™
betrayal and a workersâ€™ strike (Color Plate 25.16).
In the early 1980s, a younger generation of French
filmmakers began to steer this image-consciousness in
fresh directions. They turned away from the political modernism of the post-1968 era and the grubby realism of
Jean Eustache and Maurice Pialat toward a fast-moving
highly artificial cinema. They drew inspiration from Hollywood (especially Coppolaâ€™s One from the Heart and Rumble Fish), late Fassbinder, television commercials, music
videos, and fashion photography. Examples of the new
French trend are Jean-Jacques Beineixâ€™s Diva (1982),
Moon in the Gutter (1983), 37Â° 2 le matin (aka Betty Blue,
hypnotic pulsations of the turbulent Amazon. The deserts
of Fata Morgana (1970) dissolve into teeming speckles of
film grain, flickers akin to those that interrupt Kaspar
Hauser and invite us to share the protagonistâ€™s vision.
Herzog declared himself the heir of F. W. Murnau; he
made a new version of Nosferatu (1978), and he recaptured Expressionist acting style by hypnotizing the cast of
Heart of Glass. His allegiance to the silent cinema was evident in his belief that sheerly striking images could express
mystical truths beyond language. But the evocative power
of his work also depended on the throbbing scores supplied by the art-rock group Popol Vuh. The loosening of
cause-and-effect characteristic of the art cinema enabled
Herzog to dedicate himself to the rapt contemplation of
the pure, timeless image.
Wim Wenders began with similar anti-narrative
impulses, making a series of minimalist shorts during the
late 1960s. When Wenders turned to features, his sensibilist side found expression in loose journey narratives that
halted for contemplation of locales and objects. Strongly
influenced by American culture, he found as much sensuous pleasure in pinball, rock and roll, and Hollywood movies as Herzog found in the vastness of nature. Wenders
praised the moments in films that are â€œso unexpectedly
lucid, so overwhelmingly concrete, that you hold your
breath or sit up or put your hand to your mouth.â€4
In The Goalieâ€™s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1971), a
young man drifts about, moves in with a woman, murders
her, drifts some more, and waits for the police to find him.
The plot, based on a novel by the new-inwardness writer
Peter Handke, crumbles into a series of â€œoverwhelmingly
concreteâ€ moments, as when a cigarette tossed from a bus
showers sparks in the road after a jukebox plays â€œThe Lion
Sleeps Tonightâ€ (Color Plate 25.14). Similarly, in
Wendersâ€™s â€œroadâ€ trilogyâ€”Alice in the Cities (1973), The
Wrong Move (1974), and In the Course of Time (aka Kings
of the Road, 1976)â€”the wanderings of displaced characters
are punctuated by lengthy landscape shots, silences, and
images that invite intense study. Not surprisingly, Wenders
declared Yasujiro Ozu his favorite director, making a documentary in homage to him (Tokyo-Ga, 1985).
â€œI totally reject stories,â€ Wenders wrote in 1982,
â€œbecause for me they only bring out lies, nothing but lies,
and the biggest lie is that they show coherence where there
is none. Then again, our need for these lies is so consuming that itâ€™s completely pointless to fight them and to put
together a sequence of images without a storyâ€”without the
lie of a story. Stories are impossible, but itâ€™s impossible to
live without them.â€5 Wendersâ€™s films enact an ongoing
struggle between the demand for narrative and a search
for instantaneous visual revelation. 25.28 The artificial image in Rohmerâ€™s Perceval le gallois.
Western Europe 573
1985), and IP5 (1992); Luc Bessonâ€™s Subway (1985), Big
Blue (1988), and Nikita; and Leos Caraxâ€™s Boy Meets Girl
(1984), Mauvais sang (â€œBad Blood,â€ aka The Night Is
Young, 1986), and Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (â€œThe Lovers
of the Pont-Neuf,â€ 1992).
Parisian critics called this the cinÃ©ma du look. The
films decorate fairly orthodox plotlines with chic fashion,
high-tech gadgetry, and conventions drawn from advertising photography and television commercials. The directors fill the shots with crisp edges and stark blocks of
color; mirrors and polished metal create dazzling reflections (25.29). The slick images of Beineix and Besson
evoke publicity and video style, as well as Blade Runner
and Flashdance. Carax, the most resourceful of the group,
creates sensuous imagery through chiaroscuro lighting,
unusual framings, and unexpected choices of focus (Color
Plate 25.17). Several critics diagnosed this trend as a postmodern style that borrowed from mass-culture design in
order to create an aesthetic of surfaces. In a broader perspective, the cinÃ©ma du look was a mannerist, youthoriented version of that tendency toward startling beauty
seen in more enigmatic form in Herzog and Wenders.
Theater and Painting: Godard and Othersâ€ƒThe fascination with images was shared by German directors outside
the sensibilist trend. For some, theater provided another way
to return to the image and spectacle. Werner Schroeter, a
distinguished opera director, created several stylized,
baroque films (25.30). Hans-JÃ¼rgen Syberberg followed
Hitler: A Film from Germany (p. 520) with Parsifal (1982), an
adaptation of Richard Wagnerâ€™s music drama as a colossal
allegory of German history and myth (Color Plate 25.18).
Further manifestations of the new pictorialism came
from the Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira. After his
1931 city symphony Douro, Faina Fluvial (p. 284), he produced little until Act of Spring (1963), a quasi-documentary
about a village reenactment of Christâ€™s passion. Oliveira
went on to make a string of films whose visual beauty often
arose from a transformation of theatrical traditions. His
most ambitious was The Satin Slipper (1985), a seven-hour
adaptation of a mystical French play.
Oliveira relied on norms of art-cinema narration. Act
of Spring displays the act of filming according to thencurrent conventions of reflexivity and cinÃ©ma vÃ©ritÃ©. Once
the passion play begins, however, he treats it as a selfcontained ritual, eliminating the audience and dwelling on
the tensions between theatrical conventions and the openair space, where stylized costumes and props stand in sunlight and landscape (Color Plate 25.19). Reflexivity
reappears in The Satin Slipper, which begins in an actual
theater, incorporates film clips projected onstage, and
ends in a movie studio.
Throughout his career (he was directing until age
104), Oliveira adapted plays written by himself or other
Portuguese dramatists. Even his films not drawn from the
stage display a sumptuous mise-en-scÃ¨ne, often recalling
theater conventions through tableau compositions and
direct address to the camera (25.31). A similar theatricality emerged in the whimsical works of JoÃ£o CÃ©sar
Monteiro, another Portuguese filmmaker. Exploiting a solemn long-take style, Monteiroâ€™s images are often more
eccentric and disquieting than Oliveiraâ€™s (25.32).
For other directors fascinated by the artificial
image, theater did not provide as much inspiration as
painting did. Derek Jarmanâ€™s first mainstream feature,
Caravaggio (1986), not only portrays the master creating his paintings (Color Plate 25.20) but also employs a
painterly style in the dramatic scenes. In RaÃºl Ruizâ€™s
HypothÃ¨se du tableau volÃ© (â€œHypothesis of the Stolen
25.29 A photocopy store becomes a dizzying play of
shadows, moving light, and reflections (Boy Meets Girl).
25.30 Divas freeze into histrionic poses (Death of Maria
574 CHAPTER 25â€ƒNew Cinemas and New Developments: Europe and the USSR since the 1970s
Jean-Luc Godard also took inspiration from painting.
His video work had concentrated on the relations among
images, dialogues, and written texts, but when he returned
to cinema he was calling himself a painter who happened
to work in film. However much Wenders believed he gave
up the story for the sake of the singular image, Godard
went much further. Passion (1982), one of the most pictorially rich films of his career, centers on a film director
who replicates famous paintings on video. Godardâ€™s camera glides over groups of static actors, making a twodimensional image voluminous, as if the cinema had the
power to breathe life into familiar masterpieces (Color
Godardâ€™s films of the following yearsâ€”First Name Carmen (1983), Hail Mary (1985), DÃ©tective (1985), King
Lear (1987), Soigne ta droite (â€œKeep Up Your Right,â€
1987), Nouvelle Vague (1990)â€”while not relaxing his usual
demands on the viewer, suggest a new serenity. There is a
lyrical treatment of foliage, water, and sunlight. Rejecting
his frontal, posterlike shots of the late 1960s, Godard
builds scenes out of oblique, close views of the human
body and its surroundings. He uses available light, without
fill, to create rich shadow areas. His angles split the scene
into planes of sharp detail and out-of-focus action (Color
Godard even tries to find beauty in devastation. In
Praise of Love (2001) revives memories of the Holocaust,
while Notre Musique (2004) examines war-torn former
Yugoslavia. Through stock footage or the pulverized imagery of video, Godard finds moments of piercing pictorial
beauty. The â€œpainterlyâ€ Godard film has a calm radiance
that softens the abrasiveness of the subject and the perplexities of the story. In his characteristically radical way,
he shows the rewards of a return to the arresting image.
The tendency toward the ravishing image emerged on
many fronts with Lars von Trierâ€™s The Element of Crime
yielding a trancelike view of a frightening netherworld
(Color Plate 25.24) and Claire Denisâ€™s Beau Travail presenting sunbaked images of Foreign Legionnaires tidily
ironing their uniforms (Color Plate 25.10). In Delicatessen (1991) and The City of Lost Children (1995), JeanPierre Jeunet and Marc Caro created comic-book
grotesquerie, half Terry Gilliam, half Tim Burton (25.33).
Jeunet found solo success with the zany AmÃ©lie, which
softened and brightened the wide-angle look, as suited a
nonsense comedy recalling RenÃ© Clair (Color Plate
25.25). More monumental, darkly comic imagery came
from Swedenâ€™s Roy Andersson. In Songs from the Second
Floor (2000) and You, the Living (2007), city life grinds
away in gray, cavernous spaces, sparsely populated by
skeletal or obese figures (Color Plate 25.26).
Painting,â€ 1978), the camera wends its way around figures frozen in place and representing missing paintings
by an obscure artist. Jacques Rivetteâ€™s La Belle noiseuse
(â€œThe Beautiful Flirt,â€ 1991) and Victor Ericeâ€™s The
Quince Tree Sun (1992) center on painters, and in each
the plot is secondary to quiet observation of the meticulous process by which an image is born.
Ulrike Ottinger, a West German photographer and
graphic artist, was a central participant in the new pictorialism. Her Ticket of No Return (1979) portrays a rich
woman alcoholic on a binge through Berlin, dogged by
three sociologists who interject lectures on the dangers of
drink. The unrealistic staging is interrupted by several of
the womanâ€™s daydreams. Freak Orlando (1981) confronts
Virginia Woolfâ€™s dual-gendered time traveler Orlando with
â€œfreaksâ€ at various points in history. Ottingerâ€™s outlandish
costumes intensify the fantasy (Color Plate 25.21).
25.32 Sylvestre (1981): a medieval drama mixes realistic
locations with stylized theatrical sets.
25.31 In Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (2009), the
man tells his story of doomed love. But the woman beside him
shares her reactions with the camera, replying to him while
looking at us, as if we were a theater audience.
Eastern Europe and the USSR 575
Theatrical and painterly impulses were combined in
the work of EugÃ¨ne Green, an American working in
France. Before an unmoving camera, his characters stand
stiffly, as if posing for a portrait, and they speak directly to
the camera, as if on stage (Color Plate 25.27). The apparently naive technique projects a poetic sincerity, and it
suits the fairy-tale plotting of Le Monde vivant (â€œThe Living World,â€ 2003) and Le Pont des arts (2004).
Perhaps in response to the self-conscious beauty of
such films, other directors assaulted the viewer with
shocking material. French filmmakers began conjuring up
sexual imagery reminiscent of hard-core pornography, as
in Catherine Breillatâ€™s Romance, Bruno Dumontâ€™s La vie
de JÃ©sus (1997), and Patrice ChÃ©reauâ€™s Intimacy (2001).
Outside France, the same explicitness turned up in Lukas
Moodyssonâ€™s A Hole in My Heart (Sweden, 2004) and
Michael Winterbottomâ€™s 9 Songs (UK, 2004). At times,
the new eroticism was laced with brutal violence. Virginie
Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thiâ€™s Baise-moi (2000)
showed two women who embark on a road trip mixing sex
with murder. Gaspar NoÃ«â€™s Seul Contre Tous (I Stand
Alone, 1999) was no less fervid in its portrayal of a sociopathic butcher, and his follow-up Irreversible (2002)
became notorious for its harrowing rape scene.
The Austrian Michael Haneke typified the move
toward a cinema that frankly threatens its audience. In
calm and clinical detail, he follows his people beyond the
limit of everyday behavior. His brutal realism coexists with
an ominous formal precision, as if only a cold stare could
do justice to the horrors of modern social relations.
Haneke found his distinctive tone with The Seventh Continent (1989), a dispassionate portrayal of a familyâ€™s collective suicide. Bennyâ€™s Video (1992) shows a rich schoolboy
seducing and murdering a classmate, everything recorded on
tape. In La Pianiste (The Piano Player, 2001), a middle-aged
piano teacher becomes fascinated by one of her pupils, whom
she entices into a sadomasochistic relationship. Code Inconnu
(â€œCode Unknown,â€ 2000) plays a harsh variant on the
25.33 Wide-angle deformations in The City of Lost Children.
network narrative. Several Parisiansâ€”an aspiring actress, an
African familyâ€”are connected to the Bosnian war through a
gesture of casual cruelty (25.41). Using a flashback structure, Amour (2012) revisits domestic homicide, now as an act
of love. Hanekeâ€™s laconic, unsentimental style presents death
as, for once, a release rather than a violation.
EASTERN EUROPE AND THE USSR
Eastern Europe: From Reform to Revolution
â€œIt is time to relegate to the archives the postulates of the
cold war. . . . Any interference in internal affairs and any
attempts to restrict the sovereignty of statesâ€”either friends
and allies or anyone elseâ€”are inadmissible.â€6 These
remarks, made by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in
June 1989, went beyond the official lie that the USSR satellites were independent. Gorbachevâ€™s glasnost (openness)
policy included a greater degree of self-determination for
the Eastern European countries.
In the months before and after Gorbachevâ€™s speech,
these countries astonished the world by taking down their
governments. Throughout 1989, East Germany, Hungary,
Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania cast out
their Communist leaders and demanded democracy and
economic reform along capitalist lines. Joyous crowds,
gathering from all over Europe, tore down the Berlin Wall.
Less than two years later, an aborted coup against Gorbachev triggered the collapse of the Communist Party in
the Soviet Union itself.
Velvet Revolutions and National Cinemasâ€ƒAlmost no
one predicted the abrupt death of Eastern European Communism. The 1968 Prague Spring had been aborted by an
invasion of Soviet troops (p. 500), and all hopes of democracy seemed stilled. Poland, Hungary, and some other
25.41 In Code Inconnu, the selfish French boy throws a
crumpled sack into the lap of a Romany beggar woman. The
gesture starts to spin a web of painful events.
576 CHAPTER 25â€ƒNew Cinemas and New Developments: Europe and the USSR since the 1970s
ART CINEMA: SLOWING DOWN AND JUMPING AROUND
During the 2000s, two extreme stylistic tendencies
caught criticsâ€™ attention. On the one side, story pace slackened. The focus on the arresting image led some filmmakers to unfold their scenes with unusual deliberation. At the
other extreme was a nervous, skittery style that sought to
engage viewers viscerally.
What some critics were calling â€œslow cinemaâ€ might better have been called slower cinema. Since World War II, many
directors had employed long takes, intervals of silence or
â€œdead time,â€ and loosening of narrative action (pp. 326â€“331).
Art films had long been criticized as ponderous, and minimalist filmmakers of the 1970s had stretched the viewerâ€™s
patience even more (p. 514). Now younger directors were
pushing these tendencies further, creating static, severe films
that seemed opposed to pleasurable cinematic storytelling.
Landscapes and empty interiors prevailed over drama,
and characters were impassive and seldom revealed their
inner lives. The â€œbehaviorismâ€ initiated by Neorealism
seemed to have come to a kind of limit in a film like Colossal Youth (2006), in which an unmoving camera records
semi-fictionalized lives of the underclass (25.34).
This trend had sources in the postwar films of Dreyer,
particularly Gertrud (1965; p. 345), and the work of
Antonioni, Bresson, Tarkovsky, Warhol, and Straub and Huillet. The German Sensibilists, seeking to transfix the viewer
with a rapturous image, were in a similar vein. Akermanâ€™s
Jeanne Dielmann, a prototype of minimalism, was influenced by Structural Film (p. 538). By the early 2000s, many
filmmakers around the world had decided to decelerate
plot pace and emphasize static, barely changing images.
A shot might run for minutes, and instead of the virtuoso camera movements to be found in Hollywood long
takes, filmmakers anchored the camera, the better to let
the action unfold gradually, what Tarkovsky called â€œsculpting in time.â€ In Albert Serraâ€™s Birdsong (2008), the story of
the birth of Jesus is given an austerity through nearly
motionless takes, with some shots accentuating humor
and others depicting spiritual devotion (25.35).
The prolonged shot provokes the viewer to register
aspects of setting and performance that would normally
go unnoticed. Tiny gestures leap to our eye when everything else remains unchanging (25.36). Directors began to
realize that whole films could be built out of scenes with
such fine-grained activity.
25.34 Colossal Youth: while the TV runs, Vanda tells Ventura
about her drug addiction and the traumatic birth of her daughter.
No cuts to closer views break up the ten-minute shot, and the
distant, unbalanced composition further downplays the drama.
25.35 The three wise men lie prostrate in a four-minute static
shot, so that the only motion we see is that of the baby Jesus on
Maryâ€™s lap (Birdsong).
25.36 In The Turin Horse (BÃ©la Tarr, 2012), the unmoving
camera forces us to notice the different ways father and
daughter eat their meager meal of boiled potatoes.
Eastern Europe and the USSR 577
A very different creative option was gaining strength
over the same years. After Direct Cinema documentary
had made the camera mobile, some mainstream filmmakers employed handheld shooting for fiction films. Early
examples were A Hard Dayâ€™s Night (1964) and the work of
John Cassavetes. (Avant-garde filmmakers like Stan
Brakhage had done the same a decade before.) The
Steadicam (p. 466) and portable video made shooting
loose and informal to an even greater degree.
The result was a style relying on what was called the
â€œfree camera.â€ Instead of fixed shots that pinned actors to
setting, the framing seems spontaneously to follow them,
shifting constantly as the scene develops. Instead of precise compositions, the image is sketchy, perhaps a little
wobbly, always subject to revision. The camera might
probe the situation like a curious bystander (25.37â€“25.40).
Single-take features like Victoria (Germany, 2015) carry
this onlooker principle to the limit.
The free-camera approach became common in lowbudget films of the 1990s well as TV series like Homicide:
Life on the Streets and films of the Dogme 95 movement
(p. 694). In the new century, it became a favored option
around the world, associated with the Dardennes and
other naturalist directors. Hollywoodâ€™s embrace of more
aggressive approaches to continuity (p. 668) absorbed the
free-camera technique as well.
The free camera fostered speed and efficiency in production, and audiences came to accept it. But it could seem
distracting. The Danish comedy Clash of Egos (2008) centers on an ordinary viewer given a chance to direct a movie.
Having had his fill of bumpy footage, he insists that the
shots be steady. The cinematographer protests: â€œI havenâ€™t
put the camera on a tripod since film school.â€
â€œSlower cinemaâ€ was associated with festivals and art
houses, but the free camera was used in both art films and
25.37 Gomorrah: the handheld camera follows drug traffickers
going to meet young men offering a deal.
25.40 The dealer and the young men move on to consummate
the deal, with the camera following at a distance, as if it were an
onlooker trying to catch up (Gomorrah).
25.38 Catching up, the camera eases into their conversation,
framing one of the youths. As in a Wiseman documentary, the
shot frames who is speaking at the moment (Gomorrah).
25.39 Instead of cutting to a reaction shot, the camera pans to
capture the response of the dealer. The framing then shifts
slightly to reveal his partner watching him (Gomorrah).
mass-market ones. As that style became a new norm,
adherents of the minimalist model may have felt justified in
embracing what they considered a more contemplative
and deeply engaging technique.
578 CHAPTER 25â€ƒNew Cinemas and New Developments: Europe and the USSR since the 1970s
Underground (1995), which traces the history of Yugoslavia from 1941 to the civil war.
After 1989: The Threat of Hollywoodâ€ƒThroughout
post-1989 Eastern Europe, the centralized government production systems were replaced by private film companies
that welcomed Western money. Hungary made a distribution arrangement with American companies in 1989, and
soon other countries opened their markets. In most countries, state censorship was abolished.
The new conditions created a fresh barrage of difficulties. Under Communist regimes, ticket prices had been low
(usually less than a dollar), but open-market conditions
forced prices up, which drove audiences away. Theaters
were shabby, but without state subsidy there was no money
for renovations. Home video, late in penetrating Eastern
Europe but offering unrestrained (often pirated) access to
popular Western films, further cut theater attendance.
Worst of all, post-1989 freedom put filmmakers head
to head with Hollywood. The results were predictable.
American films flooded the market much as they had deluged Western Europe after World War II. In 1991,
95 percent of the films playing in Poland were from US
companies, while Czech films attracted less than onefourth of domestic box-office revenues. In the same year,
the audience for Hungarian films was only one-seventh of
what it had been two years before. The local product
played in small art theaters and barely broke even.
Eastern European governments sought to imitate
Western Europe by offering loans, subsidies, and prizes,
but funds remained scanty. With countries struggling to
heal fractured economies and inflation running high, art
cinema could no longer expect much help. Filmmakers
had little choice but to pursue international audiences.
â€œWe want to make films for viewers in Paris, New York,
Tokyo,â€ announced one Polish director. â€œWe cannot make
films only for Poland.â€8
After dissolving the Warsaw Pact in 1991, former
Soviet satellites sought to join the EC. In 2004, most of
the major countries were admitted, and some filmmakers
began to receive funds from EU agencies and television
channels. In addition, local producers began reaping the
benefits of coproductions with richer countries to the
west. The large-scale studio facilities left over from Communist days proved attractive to foreign producers, and
low wages, favorable exchange rates, and tax incentives
brought in runaway productions. Facilities in Prague,
Bucharest, and Budapest competed for foreign projects.
Politically, many of these countries saw a burst of liberalization after 1989 followed by a counterreaction. In
the 2010s, populist right-wing regimes came to power in
Eastern countries pacified their citizens with economic
reforms and boosts in living standards that suggested that
â€œsocialist consumerismâ€ had finally arrived. Yet the prosperity of Eastern Europe was artificial, sustained by price
controls. The Arab countriesâ€™ 1973 oil price increase, along
with domestic shortfalls in agriculture and consumer goods,
led to the beginning of discontent. â€œA spectre is haunting
Eastern Europe,â€ wrote VÃ¡clav Havel in 1979, â€œthe spectre
of what is called in the west â€˜dissent.â€™â€7
New forces for
changeâ€”labor unions, nationalist groups, and even religious
bodiesâ€”chipped away at the Communist regimes.
The most decisive events took place in Poland. During
1976 and 1977, the governmentâ€™s attempt to raise prices
was met by a rash of strikes. In 1980, more strikes erupted
when thousands of workers occupied the shipyards of
Gdansk. With the aid of the Catholic Church, Lech
WaÅ‚Ä™sa and other workers founded a new union: Solidarity. Solidarity rapidly became a kind of popular front,
claiming that it was working to turn Poland into a â€œselfgoverning republic.â€ The regime responded by outlawing
Solidarity and declaring martial law. Leaders of Solidarity
were arrested, and the organization went underground.
When Gorbachev announced in 1985 that the
Russian government would not send troops into a satellite
nation, the Polish government began negotiations with
Solidarity. In the open elections of 1989, Solidarity won a
stunning victory over Communist incumbents and WaÅ‚Ä™sa
became president of the new Poland.
Popular movements toward liberalization emerged in
Hungary and Czechoslovakia as well. In Yugoslavia and
other Balkan States, the collapse of Communism was
accelerated by new leaders who played on nationalistic
feelings. The failures of Eastern Europeâ€™s planned economies made people eager to move toward democracy, market economies, and access to agricultural produce,
modern housing, and up-to-date consumer goods. The
â€œvelvet revolutionsâ€ of 1989 were partly responses to the
inability of Communism to deliver social services and to
guarantee citizens a modern lifestyle.
At first, political freedom hurt film production. East
European cinema was battered by the economic crises and
social upheavals of the late 1980s. In East Germany, for
example, the end of the Communist regime and the reunification with West Germany left old-line filmmakers
stranded. German films claimed only 10 percent of the
national box office. In Yugoslavia, an ethnic war started in
1991 and destroyed Yugoslaviaâ€™s civil society. The war
ground to a close at the end of the century, but with the
creation of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and other states, Yugoslavian cinema was ended. Its wilder traditions were
recalled in Emir Kusturicaâ€™s Felliniesque black comedy
Eastern Europe and the USSR 579
found in Poland. Neither as liberated as Hungary nor as
repressive as Czechoslovakia or Romania, Poland offered
filmmakers some latitude for social criticism. Although production units had been dissolved in the wake of the 1968
demonstrations (p. 414), they were soon reconstituted, and
filmmakers acquired greater freedom. Each production unit
consisted of an artistic director (usually a major filmmaker)
and a literary director (usually a screenwriter). During the
early 1970s, filmmakers adhered to safe literary and historical subjects. Midway through the decade, in synchronization with popular discontent with economic policy, there
arose the â€œcinema of moral concern.â€
A prime example was Andrzej Wajdaâ€™s Man of Marble
(1976), a fictionalized investigation of a â€œmodel workerâ€
from the 1950s. The filmmaker Agnieszka tries to find out
why Birkut, a loyal bricklayer, was erased from history. In
an echo of Citizen Kane, her interviews with people who
knew Birkut frame extensive flashbacks. Wajdaâ€™s exposure
of Stalinist and post-Stalinist political intrigue reflexively
invokes cinemaâ€™s ability to create ideology (25.42). At
first, Agnieszka trusts the camera as a documentary tool,
but by the end of the film, denied raw stock and a camera,
she must discover the truth directly, through human contact with Birkutâ€™s son.
Along with Krzysztof Zanussiâ€™s Camouflage (1976), a
depiction of conformity and idealism at a summer camp
for college students, Man of Marble signaled a disaffection
with the regime. A harder-line vice-minister of culture for
films came to power, and the filmmaking community protested. Directors pointed out that the public was treating
film as the conscience of Poland, the only witness to the
conditions of social life. Feliks Falkâ€™s Top Dog (1977),
Zanussiâ€™s Spiral (1978), and other films of â€œmoral concernâ€ countered the regimeâ€™s boasts about improved living
Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere. Film production
remained at moderate levels, sometimes assisted by EU
and coproduction funding, and most governments allocated subsidies and tax incentives to help the industry.
Attendance increased overall, thanks partly to modern
multiplexes. In Poland and the Czech Republic, local
films gained sizable market share.
Still, filmmakers struggled to make popular films,
let alone festival successes and exportable releases. The
key countries of Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary
illustrate how Eastern European film moved from the stagnant years of the mid-1970s to the problems and achievements of the 2000s.
Czech Republicâ€ƒAfter the Prague Spring of 1968, the
government crackdown was severe. The government tightened control over film units, where byzantine bureaucracies
and corps of â€œliterary advisersâ€ steered production away
from political subjects and toward popular entertainment.
Many directors emigrated.
Of the New Wave directors who stayed, JirÃ Menzel
did not make a film until 1976, and then began turning
out characteristically bittersweet comedies such as My
Sweet Little Village (1986). Vera ChytilovÃ¡, after campaigning for years against the sexism of the regimeâ€™s film policy
(p. 501), returned to directing with The Apple Game
(1976), a farce about sexual relations that earned official
disapproval but was marketed abroad. She followed this
with films that mixed commercial narrative forms with
eroticism and social satire.
After the 1989 revolts, major banned films came off
the shelf. Audiences around the world saw what the censors had forbidden, and the vivacity of the Prague Spring
was recaptured. Menzelâ€™s Larks on a String (1969; p. 501),
taken out of the vaults, won the main prize at the Berlin
Film Festival twenty years after it was finished.
In 1993, the country split peacefully, creating the
Czech Republic and Slovakia. Slovakia made few films
until the 2010s, when some titles attracted festival attention. After a period of readjustment, the Czech industry
regained its strength, putting out a dozen or two films
each year. Menzel, Jan Å vankmajer, and other senior
directors mounted new projects. Just as important, Prague
held Barrandov Studio, the major Eastern Europe production facility. It attracted many top overseas projects,
including Casino Royale (2006), Mission Impossibleâ€”Ghost
Protocol (2011), and the dystopian Snowpiercer (2013), a
Czech-South Korean coproduction.
Poland: From Solidarity to KieÅ›lowskiâ€ƒThe most energetic Eastern European cinema of the 1970s and 1980s was
25.42 Man of Marble: Birkutâ€™s triumphs as a bricklayer
staged for the â€œdocumentaryâ€ camera.
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